Stung by the anger in a section of Arab world – which translated into hashtags calling for the boycott of Indian products – the BJP on Sunday suspended party spokesperson Nupur Sharma and expelled her colleague Naveen Kumar Jindal over their comments on Prophet Muhammad, saying that it "strongly denounces insult of any religious personalities".
The most prominent personality in the Arab world to voice his condemnation was the Grand Mufti of Oman with Twitter handles owing allegiance to him calling for the boycott of Indian goods.
This was followed by some disturbing reports which claimed superstores in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and other Arab states are removing Indian products in protest against the insulting remarks.
In a related development, both Qatar and Kuwait summoned the Indian ambassadors and handed over a protest note against the remarks.
Following the outcry, which manifested online on Saturday, the BJP tried to make belated amends and said in a statement: During the thousands of years of the history of India, every religion has blossomed and flourished. The BJP respects all religions and strongly denounces insult of any religious personalities. It is also against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion. The BJP does not promote such people or philosophy.
The BJP statement, however, omitted any reference to any incident or comments of its functionaries. It also did not state what provoked its detailed reaction. However, clearly on the back-foot, it conveyed through its detailed statement that it was reining in spokespersons who deviate from the official line on sensitive matters and speak out of turn.
"India's Constitution gives the right to every citizen to practise any religion of his/her choice and to honour and respect every religion," the party further said. "As India celebrates the 75th year of its Independence, we are committed to making India a great country, where all are equal and everyone lives with dignity; where all are committed to India's unity and integrity; where all enjoy the fruits of growth and development," it added.
While Nupur Sharma was a national spokesperson for the party, Naveen Jindal led the party's Delhi media unit. Soon after the party cracked the whip, Nupur posted a statement on Twitter. "I had been appearing on TV debates where Lord Shiva was being insulted every day. In anger, I said something. If my words have hurt anyone's religious sentiments, I withdraw them. My intention was not to hurt anyone," she wrote in Hindi.
Sharma's controversial comment came during a TV debate last week, igniting an outcry and eliciting protests from Muslim groups. As the controversy escalated, Jindal posted a tweet about the Prophet that also angered many, forcing him to delete it.
The remarks also led to protests and clashes in Kanpur. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind were at a function 80 kilometres away from the spot where clashes broke out, media reports said.
Nupur Sharma’s name also figures in a police case filed in Pune over her comment. She initially denied any wrongdoing and claimed that she has been receiving death threats.
Reacting to the suspension, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted, "The reaction in the Arab world must have really stung."