Will the anti-Muslim rhetoric cease after the Gulf outcry? writes Ashutosh

The RSS takes a lot of pride in the discipline of its volunteers but despite Mohan Bhagwat's several conciliatory statements towards Muslims in India, anti-Muslim utterances by his followers and the BJP functionaries have persisted in recent years. Why is it so?

AshutoshUpdated: Tuesday, June 07, 2022, 03:47 AM IST
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BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma | Photo: Twitter

Not long ago the Modi government had accused the USA of ‘doing vote bank politics in international relations’. This was India’s response to the state department 2021 report on International Religious Freedom in which it criticised India on the issue of minority rights but within 48 hours the Modi government had to cut a sorry figure before the Middle East Countries who have very strongly reacted to the statements of two BJP leaders - Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal - making derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad.

The BJP has had to take punitive action against Nupur Sharma, the national spokesperson, and Naveen Jindal, its media head of the Delhi unit of BJP. The government had to issue a clarification as well, stating that these statements were from the fringe elements and did not represent the government’s opinion which believes in equality of religions and pluralism. But one fails to understand how can the national spokesperson of the party be called a ‘fringe’?

This was not the first time that the Modi government has had to face embarrassment before the Muslim countries due to the religiously intolerant statements of its party leaders. Two years back Tejasvi Surya, had made a regretful statement on Twitter about Muslim women. Then, that tweet had created a furore in the middle eastern countries and the Indian Ambassador had to undertake damage control and PM Modi had to make a statement to mollify them. But no punitive action was taken against Tejasvi Surya. Rather he was promoted and made president of the Janata Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of the party.

But if anyone thinks that the BJP and its government has learnt a lesson and now onwards it will not tolerate such anti-Islam statements, must be living in a fool's paradise. Tejasvi Surya’s promotion is an example that the party rewards such leaders and there is no guarantee that the same treatment will not be given to Nupur Sharma, and once the hullabaloo is over she will be rewarded with a bigger responsibility and more high profile role. Anurag Thakur is another example who was promoted to the cabinet rank after exhorting his supporters to violence. During the Delhi assembly elections, he raised the infamous slogan - “Goli maro ...”. (Shoot the xyxo@). He was then simply a minister of state in the Finance department, now he is a high-profile Minister for Information and Broadcasting.

In Nupur Sharma’s case, the party and government kept mum for almost a week. She uttered those words in a TV debate on 27 May and the party did not censure her. Three FIRs were lodged against her in Maharashtra where the BJP is in the opposition. Nupur Sharma instead of admitting her mistake and tendering an apology to the Muslim community, blamed Alt News Editor, Zubair for editing her video and spreading falsehood. She blamed him for life threats which she claimed to be getting due to her statement. In between the disquiet within the Muslim community was growing. It led to violence in Kanpur. This was happening in full public view but the BJP did not think it right to intervene and seek at least a clarification from her.

The police department too remained a mute spectator. For a similar statement, professor Ratan Lal of Delhi university was arrested and put behind bars. Ratan Lal had written a distasteful post on social media about the Shivling allegedly found in the Gyanvapi mosque during the Court-Ordered Videography. Independent MLA from Gujarat, Jignesh Mewani, wrote about Modi on Twitter and Assam police descended in Gujarat overnight and arrested him. In Delhi, the police is controlled by the Central Home Ministry while in Assam, it is under the BJP government.

The statement was made by Nupur Sharma sitting in Delhi and yet no action has been taken by the Delhi police. What does it mean? Either, the Delhi police does not think that her statement is offensive and can damage the communal harmony or it is selective in implementing the rule of law. It is the same police who never acted on the provocative slogans made by Anurag Thakur. It also looked the other way when a few masked men and women perpetrated violence in the JNU campus. Kapil Mishra is still roaming free who could have been booked for allegedly instigating riots in North East Delhi in which 53 persons were killed.

So the question that arises is why did the BJP take punitive action this time against Nupur Sharma? There could be three plausible reasons -

One: Very strong reactions from Muslim countries in the Middle East, possibly damaging diplomatic ties with India. Qatar, Kuwait, Iran, and Saudi Arabia unequivocally condemned her remarks. These are oil-rich countries. The Organisation of Islamic Countries has also severely condemned Nupur’s remarks.

Two: The 'boycott of Indian products' call given by local Muslims in the Middle East on social media had an immediate impact. It was reported on social media that super stores in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain removed Indian products from their shelves. It was also reported that at a few places, Indians working in the Middle East were removed too. #stopinsulting_prophetmohammad was the top trending hashtag in these countries. India’s economy at the moment is in a bad shape and India can’t afford economic consequences due to her remarks. Then millions of Indians are working in the Middle East and their security could also be in jeopardy.

Three: Prime Minister Modi is very cautious about his image globally. It is true that India’s image has taken a beating due to the deterioration of the communal situation and curtailment of liberal space in the country since 2014 but his media managers always blamed this on liberal-left propaganda and non-state actors. Modi has always projected himself as a global statesman but whenever any incident directly affects his image he seems to take corrective steps, especially in bilateral relations. Like in Tejasvi Surya’s case when he distanced himself from his tweets. Similarly, in Nupur’s case, his government reacted. In both the cases, particular countries spelt out that people belonging to his party or government were indulging in Islamophobia.

Therefore, let’s not assume that from now onwards, anti-Muslim diatribes by people linked with the BJP and the government will pause. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had said a few years back that ‘Hindutva without Muslims is incomplete’. The RSS takes a lot of pride in the discipline of its volunteers but despite his several conciliatory statements towards Muslims in India, anti-Muslim activities by his followers and the BJP governments have gone up in recent years. Why is it so?

(The writer is Editor, SatyaHindi.com, and author of Hindu Rashtra. He tweets at @ashutosh83B)

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