New Delhi: Hashtags calling for the boycott of Indian products are trending on Twitter in Arab countries after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nupur Sharma and Delhi BJP leader Naveen Kumar Jindal allegedly made some inflammatory remarks against Prophet Mohammed. The Grand Mufti of Oman along with Twitter handles with a large following have called for the boycott.
The boycott tweets also included a scathing attack against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Grand Mufti of Oman Sheikh Al-Khalili tweeted:
With the issue snowballing into a major controversy, the BJP has swung into action.
In a statement released on Sunday, June 5, by BJP’s party general secretary Arun Singh, the party asserted that it “is strongly against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion,” adding that it “respects all religions and strongly denounces insult of any religious personality.”
“The BJP does not promote such people or philosophy,” said Arun Singh.
The BJP statement, however, made no direct mention of any incident or comment. It also did not provide any context for the statement, either by referring to Sharma’s comments or about the religion in question.
Sharma’s and Jindal’s remarks have drawn protests from Muslim groups. Due to the backlash, the BJP suspended Sharma from the party “with immediate effect”, and also cancelled the primary membership of Jindal.
Singh said, “During the thousands of years of history of India every religion has blossomed and flourished. The Bharatiya Janata Party respects all religions. The BJP strongly denounces insult of any religious personalities of any religion.”
“India’s constitution gives the right to every citizen to practice any religion of his or her choice and to honour and respect every religion,” he said.
“As India celebrates 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,” the BJP leader said.
Coming against the backdrop of protests occurring both within and outside India against Sharma’s remarks and an attempt by Hindutva workers to lay claim to Gyanvapi mosque inside the premises of Kashi Vishwanath temple, the BJP is possibly feeling the heat at the international level for what has now become an unabashed pursuit of Hindu majoritarian politics.
Incidentally, the ruling party’s statement in reaction to the social media backlash is in contrast to New Delhi’s indignant tone when it accused the United States of indulging in “votebank politics in international relations” after US secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke of “rising attacks against people and places of worship” in India.
This time around there has been no official statement from the ministry of external affairs or any of the Indian missions in the Gulf.
However, the Indian embassy in Oman did re-post tweets of the BJP’s statement through its official Twitter account.
According to Indian officials familiar with the Gulf region, the Grand Mufti’s statement is not endorsed by the Oman government and can only be seen as his personal views. They also noted that the Grand Mufti had also previously issued statements about incidents against the Muslim community in India. He had tweeted in September last year in the wake of Assam police’s actions which largely targeted Muslims during an eviction drive.
This is not the first time that statements from BJP members had led to a backlash in the Gulf region.
In April 2020, the Tablighi Jamaat was accused of being a “super-spreader” of coronavirus infections, with BJP members even accusing them of being “human bombs”. With the media and members of the ruling party issuing provocative remarks which seemingly targeted all Indian Muslims, Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a general tweet calling for unity and covid-19 not discriminating against any community.
While the Indian embassies highlighted the Indian PM’s tweet, it was not enough to stop the social media momentum with a number of prominent Arab social media personalities focussing on the remarks by several BJP members, actions by authorities which had an alleged anti-Muslim bias, as well as, social media posts of Gulf-based Indians. There were also calls for the boycott of Indian businesses in the Gulf.
The Indian missions in the Gulf countries had to also issue statements asking the Indian diaspora to remain vigilant against religious divisions.
In May 2020, the Indian government asked Twitter to block the 2015 tweet of a BJP member of parliament Tejaswi Surya, which had also been circulated during the social media backlash from the gulf.