Nupur Sharma

For their objectionable comments against Prophet Muhammad BJP has taken disciplinary actions against its official spokespersons, Nupur Sharma and Navin Jindal. BJP also issued a statement on religious tolerance.

In the statement, it said, “During the thousands of years of the history of India every religion has blossomed and flourished.  The Bharatiya Janata Party respects all religions. The BJP strongly denounces insults of any religious personalities of any religion. The Bharatiya Janata Party is also strongly against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion. The BJP does not promote such people or philosophy. India’s constitution gives the right to every citizen to practice any religion of his and her choice and respects every religion. 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.”

How beautiful! The statement reads like the preamble of our constitution reflecting our pluralistic tradition. Is this the statement of the BJP which has come to power by polarizing people on religious lines?  Or is it the statement of the liberal democrats that the BJP criticizes all the time? Where has the country gone since the BJP’s coming to power in 2014? Weren’t they saying all kinds of things against the religious minority to placate the Hindu majority so that they could garner their votes?

All the time they are harassing the minorities and putting them under so much pressure. We have observed that very often whenever people belonging to minority communities are attacked by the Hindu hoodlums, in the BJP ruled states, instead of taking action against the attackers they normally side with them and cause further trouble for the attacked.  

Only the other day during the UP elections BJP was speaking in terms of 80% and 30%. Then, how come now the BJP has become so liberal and open-minded suddenly? We still remember what Barak Obama said in New Delhi on 27 January after concluding his three-day visit to India.  He said that the recent incidents of religious intolerance would have shocked Gandhi had he been alive.

He reminded us about article 25 of our constitution on religious tolerance and the coexistence of different faiths. In India and abroad a large number of intellectuals, authors and statesmen criticized India for marginalizing the minorities, Dalits and tribals.

The other day German envoy Walter J Linder said:  “No President, no Prime Minister, no Opposition leader is always in this position, it always changes. India has a very old culture. And I think a big part of this country is the coexistence and the tolerance of different cultural influences, religions, languages.”

The BJP has not changed overnight. They had to act against their spokespersons under international pressure. The objectionable comments of the BJP spokespersons not only hurt the religious sentiments of the Muslim minorities in India they have also offended the Islamic countries, particularly the gulf nations. The UAE, Oman, Indonesia, Iraq, the Maldives, Jordan, Libya and Bahrain condemned the remarks.

Earlier, Kuwait, Iran and Qatar had called Indian ambassadors to register their protest, and Saudi Arabia had issued a strongly-worded statement. Qatar demanded a public apology from India and said “Allowing such Islamophobic remarks to continue without punishment, constitutes a grave danger to the protection of human rights and may lead to further prejudice and marginalization, which will create a cycle of violence and hate.”

Here we should remember that India’s trade with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE, stood at $87 billion in 2020-21. Millions of Indians live and work in these countries and send millions of dollars back home. These countries are also the source of most of India’s energy imports.

If India’s relation with these countries worsens it will severely affect the Indian economy which India can ill afford at the moment. This is why the BJP acted against its official spokespersons for their comments against Prophet Muhammad. But there is a great learning here for the BJP and for their supporters.

BJP should realize that dissent, religious tolerance and pluralism are the essence of Indians. It is not that we need to uphold them only for social harmony and peace, they are also essential for our economic growth and development.  This is what Raghuram Rajan, former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India said a few days back.

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Paresh Malakar

Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at: malakarparesh@gmail.com