The ‘fringe’ spokesperson merely followed the party’s playbook, and is now getting online and offline support.
Nupur Sharma must wonder what exactly she has done wrong.
On a friendly television channel, she was her combative self, hitting out at those who had opposing views and also when she felt that “Mahadev” (the Hindu deity Shiv) was insulted when a “shivling” allegedly found in a mosque was called a mere fountain.
So she did what any other BJP spokesperson would have done – attack Mohammed, the Prophet and founder of Islam.
At any other time, she would have been praised for her feisty comeback.
A few days after her statement on television, before the diplomatic reaction, she claimed that the BJP high command had told her they stood by her. The former chief minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, Sharma said, had called to say, “Don’t worry beta [Hindi for ‘child’], we are with you.”
Then, she may wonder, why this suspension?
Self-doubt or contriteness is not a virtue that those who are convinced of the righteousness of their cause have. And Hindutvavadis, consumed by their hatred of Muslims, are as fanatical as one can get. Thus, even Sharma’s apology justifies her outburst. The BJP too found it very difficult to use the words “Islam” or “the Prophet” in its statements. Instead, the party simply washed its hands off her and Naveen Jindal.
One can understand her dilemma – she was just going by the playbook and in the past she or other colleagues who speak for the BJP had never been pulled up for making rabidly anti-Muslim comments. If anything, it seemed like a good way to come to the attention of the top brass. Why, even the prime minister had in the past talked of “shamshaan (crematoriums, used by Hindus)” and “kabristan (burial ground, indicating Muslims)”. Yogi Adityanath has done worse.
Sharma – who had once been a student leader who then became a challenger to Arvind Kejriwal in the Delhi assembly elections and then got thrust into the limelight as the national spokesperson – held similar promise. Now she had been kicked out and called a ‘fringe element?’ It must hurt.
But here is something she and all those who are supporting her must understand. It is one thing to attack the defenceless Muslims of this country, who, despite being a sizeable number, have been cowed into submission, and quite another to cast aspersions on the most revered figure in Islam.
In the first, however much they may disapprove, the international community, including the Arabs, will not interfere, because it is an ‘internal matter’ of India. Besides, a single statement by a Saudi Arabia or a Qatar would be seized upon by Hindutva groups as evidence of how Indian Muslims were getting support from abroad.
Making personal remarks against the Prophet crosses a red line, one that no Muslim anywhere in the world would tolerate. It is no longer an internal issue, but a civilisational one. Had it been a private citizen, the Arabs would have fumed but let it go. When the speaker is a functionary of the ruling party, a spokesperson no less, it assumes diplomatic proportions. Thus their reaction was not at all surprising.
It must hurt the BJP and its egoistic leaders that the first one to react diplomatically – after citizens had already gone on Twitter and some supermarkets had banned Indian products from being sold – was tiny Qatar. The Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu was touring Qatar and when the Indian Ambassador was summoned, it was clearly a big snub. Others, including Saudi Arabia, followed. Soon, the likes of Indonesia and the Maldives were in the list. It became a huge crisis – all because of one misguided comment by a BJP spokesperson, who was only doing her job.
This raises a very pertinent question – would the BJP have suspended Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal or even given them a slap on the wrist for their offensive comments had the West Asian countries not objected in the most vociferous way?
What if her comment had gone unnoticed and uncommented in the Gulf countries? Would the BJP have cared that those words had hurt millions of Indian Muslims and warned Sharma? Or would it have gloated at their humiliation?
Nothing in the BJP’s past shows that the party would have cared if Muslims of India were angry and upset.
That is its primary objective and Nupur Sharma would have been congratulated for a job well done. In the past, hate mongers have assumed a higher profile. Tejaswi Surya is a good example, as is Anurag Thakur, who said, “goli maro” to apparent traitors and then became a minister who got to go to Cannes with film stars.
Suraj Pal Ammu, who called for the beheading of Deepika Padukone over her role in a film, became BJP’s Haryana spokesperson.
They have all gone on to bigger and better things. Yesterday’s fringe elements inevitably become today’s and tomorrow’s leaders. Nupur Sharma’s career path could have become smoother. Instead, she is in the doghouse.
At the same time, parts of the Hindutva ecosystem, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the weekly Organiser which is the official mouthpiece of the RSS and scores of trolls and defenders of the faith, have already proclaimed their support for her. Many online groups have sprung up where she is getting full-throated backing but Narendra Modi is being vilified for his capitulation to the Arabs.
If these organisations and individuals are under direction from the BJP or the RSS to keep the issue alive, it shows that the party is insincere in their public distancing from her. If these pro-Sharma elements are operating on their own and function as freelancers, the Sangh leadership has to seriously worry. It suggests that non-state actors have emerged who are unmoored to the BJP.
They are propelled by virulent anti-Muslim hate and will not stop for anything. They are not constrained by diplomatic niceties and might end up setting off a a domestic storm. The BJP and its leaders must realise that the hate-filled beast that the Hindutva Parivar has let loose has now a life of its own and is out of its control.
Sidharth Bhatia is a Founding Editor of The Wire.
This article was originally published on The Wire. Views in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect CGS policy.