By Krishn Kaushik/Indian Express
New Delhi, June 6: India faced a chorus of diplomatic outrage from Gulf countries and the ruling BJP Sunday cracked down on two of its leaders over their derogatory references to Islam and the Prophet. While Qatar, Kuwait and Iran summoned India’s ambassadors to their countries, calls emerged on social media across several nations for a boycott of Indian products.
On Sunday, the BJP suspended its national spokesperson Nupur Sharma and expelled its Delhi media head Naveen Kumar Jindal over their comments while the party issued a statement asserting that it “respects all religions” and “strongly denounces insults of any religious personality”.
Welcoming the action against the ruling party’s leaders, Qatar’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Indian Ambassador Deepak Mittal was summoned and handed an “official note, expressing the disappointment of the State of Qatar and its total rejection and condemnation to the controversial remarks made by an official in the ruling party in India against Prophet Mohammed”.
The statement added that Qatar is “expecting a public apology and immediate condemnation of these remarks from the Government of India, pointing out that 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 marginalisation, which will create a cycle of violence and hate.” It also said the “insulting remarks would lead to incitement of religious hatred, and offend more than two billion Muslims around the world”.
Lolwah Alkhater, Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister, tweeted, “The Islamophobic discourse has reached dangerous levels in a country long known for its diversity & coexistence. Unless officially & systemically confronted, the systemic hate speech targeting #Islam in #India will be considered a deliberate insult against the 2 billion Muslims.”
The controversy comes at a time when Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu is on an official three-day visit to Qatar.
In response to what it said were “concerns” raised by Qatar “with regard to some offensive tweets by individuals in India denigrating the religious personality”, the Indian embassy in Qatar said Ambassador Mittal “conveyed that the tweets do not, in any manner, reflect the views of the Government of India. These are the views of fringe elements”.
“In line with our civilisational heritage and strong cultural traditions of unity in diversity, the Government of India accords the highest respect to all religions,” the embassy said, adding that “strong action has already been taken against those who made the derogatory remarks… Vested interests that are against India-Qatar relations have been inciting the people using these derogatory comments”.
Kuwait’s foreign ministry, too, handed Indian Ambassador Sibi George an official note with its “categorical rejection and condemnation of the insulting statements” of the Prophet “issued by one of the officials in the ruling party”.
The statement mentioned that Kuwait also welcomed the “statement issued by the ruling party in India, during which it announced the suspension of the aforementioned official from carrying out his duties and activities in the party because of these offensive statements” and demanded a “public apology for those hostile statements”.
While sources confirmed the summoning of the Indian ambassador, until late Sunday night, Tehran was yet to issue an official statement. Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian is expected to visit India this week.
Pakistan too, reacted angrily, with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemning the “hurtful comments”. “Have said it repeatedly India under Modi is trampling religious freedoms & persecuting Muslims… World should take note & severely reprimand India,” he tweeted.
A statement released later by Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “BJP’s attempted clarification and belated and perfunctory disciplinary action against these individuals cannot assuage the pain and anguish they have caused to the Muslim world.”
On Saturday, Oman’s Grand Mufti Ahmed bin Hamad al-Khalili tweeted, “The insolent and obscene rudeness of the official spokesman for the ruling extremist party in India against the Messenger of Islam, peace be upon him, and his pure wife, Mother of the Believers Aisha, may God be pleased with her, is a war against every Muslim in the east and west of the earth, and it is a matter that calls for all Muslims to rise as one nation.”
BJP’s decision to suspend the two leaders follows the imperatives of India’s large expat population in Qatar and other Gulf countries, and the country’s trade and strategic ties with some of them.