India is facing a major diplomatic outrage as Muslim countries around the world have expressed anger after officials of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party made disparaging comments on the Prophet Muhammad and Islam, drawing accusations of blasphemy across some Arab nations. New Delhi is now left struggling to contain the damaging fallout as condemnations pour in from several Muslim countries. Anger has poured out on social media amid calls for a boycott of Indian goods in some Arab nations.
At least five Arab countries have lodged official protests against India. Pakistan and Afghanistan have also reacted strongly on Monday after the controversial comments made by two prominent spokespeople from Prime Minister Modi’s ruling party. The remarks follow increasing violence targeting India’s Muslim minority and are carried out by staunch Hindu nationalists who have been emboldened by Modi’s regular silence about such attacks since he has come to power in 2014.
The disparaging remarks targeting the Prophet Muhammad and Islam came from BJP leaders Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal, two prominent spokespeople for the party. Nupur Sharma made the insulting comments on a live television debate about the Gyanvapi mosque-Kashi Vishwanath temple dispute on Times Now on May 26. Naveen Jindal, who was the media head of the party’s New Delhi unit, had posted a tweet on the issue. The duo made speculative remarks that were seen as insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha. The remarks were so outrageous in nature that they were censored by major international media outlets. The comments angered the Muslim minority of India and sparked sporadic protests across various states in the country.
The BJP distanced itself from the disparaging comments and suspended Ms Sharma and Mr Jindal. In a statement on its website, BJP said that it “denounces insult of any religious personalities of any religion.” The BJP statement also said: “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.”
Taking to Twitter, Ms Sharma said that she had said some things in response to the comments made about a Hindu god but it was never her intention to hurt anyone’s sentiments. “If my words have caused discomfort or hurt religious feelings of anyone whatsoever, I hereby unconditionally withdraw my statement,” she said. However, she did not apologize for the comments.
Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia have condemned the remarks made by the two BJP leaders. Saudi Arabia described BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s comments as “insulting” and called for “respect for beliefs and religions”, according to a foreign ministry statement.
Riyadh is the latest to condemn the remarks. Qatar, Kuwait and Iran summoned the Indian envoy on Sunday amid widespread calls on social media for a boycott of Indian goods in the Gulf. A news channel in Iran reported what Tehran called an “insult against the Prophet of Islam in an Indian TV show”. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), based in the Saudi city of Jeddah, also condemned the remarks.
The Indian envoy in Doha was summoned to the foreign ministry and handed an official protest letter which said “Qatar is expecting a public apology and immediate condemnation of these remarks from the government of India”. Qatar’s condemnation came amid Vice President Venkaiah Naidu’s high-profile tour of the wealthy Gulf state along with Indian business leaders to boost trade.
Neighbouring Kuwait, like Qatar, summoned India’s ambassador and demanded a “public apology for these hostile statements, the continuation of which would constitute a deterrent measure or punishment to increase extremism and hatred and undermine the elements of moderation”.
Pakistan said it condemns in the “strongest possible terms, the highly derogatory remarks”. “Pakistan once again calls on the international community to take immediate cognisance of the grievously aggravating situation of Islamophobia in India,” it said.
New Delhi has made no comment so far over the protests lodged by the Arab nations, but the Foreign Ministry on Monday rejected the comments made by OIC as “unwarranted” and “narrow-minded.” On Sunday, India’s embassies in Qatar and Doha released statements saying that the views expressed by the two BJP leaders were not those of the Indian government and were made by “fringe elements.”
The criticism from Muslim countries, however, was severed, indicating that insulting Prophet Muhamamd was a red line that the two BJP leaders had so blatantly crossed.