The Nupur Sharma case stinks, and the handling of the case by the BJP and the Narendra Modi government is less than edifying. The BJP National Spokesperson’s comment denigrating the Prophet Muhammad has caused consternation and shock nationally and internationally. He knocked India off many ankles in the eyes of the world. Protesting Indian citizens have been shot dead by police, beaten in custody and their homes bulldozed. Due process was totally absent.
Strangely, India’s embassies abroad officially described the ruling party’s national spokeswoman – who is usually present on all TV channels – as a “fringe” element after her remarks. It is beyond comprehension. This is practically like saying that the BJP itself is marginal and out of step with Indian philosophy. In this case, what about the government that the party has put in place?
Foreign governments are unlikely to be fooled by New Delhi’s lame excuses. While they will continue to deal with us on matters of mutual interest, it cannot be denied that their people have our government and its leaders figured. This is really bad publicity for India.
It seems ironic that the official reaction of the Modi government – seen by his camp as the first Hindu government to come to power since independence – is causing severe heartburn within the BJP and other Hindutva constituencies. The reason is clear. What the spokesperson said out loud is what her side actually believes – to the last person, while keeping the facade of faith in the Constitution and governmental institutions of India.
Remember, not too long ago the Union Home Secretary referred to Bangladeshis as “termites”, and the damage required intense diplomatic activity to repair. During an election campaign in Delhi (not in a remote corner), a prominent minister launched a rhetorical and specious slogan which – through dog whistles and innuendo – invites people to shoot at members of a minority particular nun to be “traitors”.
The Prime Minister has slept through it all, as he has through a series of unsavory events in eight years under his watch. These included the vocal endorsement by not-so-fringe elements, including MPs, of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and the praise of his assassins and their mentor Veer Savarkar.
This time, the Indian leader has chosen silence but not sleep as the stakes seem high. His Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been quick to try to influence Islamic governments. From these we buy oil in bulk, draw heavy investment funds, and send millions of our citizens to them as workers who return billions of dollars of precious foreign currency year after year.
The governments of the Islamic world might tolerate the belittling of Indian Muslims within Indian politics, but refrain from belittling the Prophet. It’s clear and that explains why New Delhi bends over backwards to appease them.
Recently, during the visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval told him that the Indian government respects the Prophet. The NSA also said those involved in the incident “will be dealt with at the government and relevant agency levels in a manner that will serve as a lesson to others.”
In truth, no serious consequences for “those involved” are expected. The guilty spokeswoman has been “suspended” pending an investigation. What is clear, however, is that being punished, even theoretically, for hurting
Islamic sentiments are something that the ranks of Hindutva have a hard time digesting. It came out loud and clear.
While the offending spokesperson has been suspended, dozens of other Indians, including cautious journalists, have had FIRs filed against them by the government for hate speech. This is a balancing act in order to avoid a backlash that could harm Modi Sarkar’s interests.
In all likelihood, depending on the nature of the outcry, the investigation will clear the spokeswoman and ask her to lay low for a while. End of matter. As for the spokesperson for the BJP Delhi unit, a relatively small fry who has been “expelled”, he can safely be given a position in one of the many outfits in the RSS-BJP ecosystem and no one will be better advised.
Yet, dissatisfaction with the government is very real within the framework of the RSS to seek to distance itself from the party and the feelings of Hindutva, even if the government’s game is tactical. A well-known right-wing columnist recently warned that if the Modi government acts like a “secular” government in its dealings with Islamic entities, its sympathizers and supporters may shift their allegiance to another party. If it’s poppycock, Mr Modi has nothing to worry about. Nevertheless, the internal debate between the party (and other Hindutva groups) and the government is likely to be viewed with considerable interest in the country and among India’s key allies. The viability of a far-right chauvinist government in a multi-religious and complex society like India will always be under scrutiny. We are in the middle of such a phase.
Fortunately, India may not yet have slipped enough to be considered a sleazy, nasty place to be despised. This is because there are layers to Indian civilization and a rich post-independence past. Such a confluence made us stand out as an example of “sarv dharma sambhav”, literally a society and political space where all religions are treated equally (and by extension where the needy can get a boost).
When the partition storm was blowing, Maulana Azad had coined the phrase “Darul Aman”, or Land of Peace, for India. Due to its societal makeup, it has placed it differently – and attractively – from Darul Islam or Darul Harb. In the Islamic tradition, the former is the homeland or land of Islam, and the latter a hostile space from which a believer must either flee or be forced to fight. It was the clairvoyant conception of the Maulana that Pakistan and the Muslim communalists did not like. But the new idea he put forward comforted those of the Islamic faith who chose to stay in India.
It was this idea of India supported by official politics in the aftermath of the chaos of partition that reassured everyone. Although poor, India has held its head high. Despite all the little conflicts that exist in a society, here is a country where a temple, a mosque, a church can exist side by side with places of worship of other religions. The world marveled. It is this magic that has been on the cheap for the past eight years as one egregious event after another has unfolded.