Five incidents happened in the past week that are interlinked and will be long remembered.
1. BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma made derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad in a TV debate.
2. The BJP decided to suspend Nupur Sharma and expel another party leader, Naveen Jindal.
3. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, while giving sermons to Sangh volunteers, said, “Why look for a Shivling in every mosque?”
4. Gulf countries reacted sharply to Nupur Sharma’s remarks on Prophet Muhammad, gave a call to boycott Indian goods and demanded an apology from India for her statement.
5. After Nupur Sharma’s suspension, social media, which is dominated by the supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, defiantly backed Nupur and directed their scorn and anger at Modi and the BJP.
Together, these five incidents tell a tragic story about Modi’s India.
This story is about how the RSS and Modi are caught in their own web and are losing control over the new phenomenon which is blinded by bigotry and has no respect for other religions. Sooner than later, India will pay a heavy price for its actions.
The BJP, since forming its government in 2014, has deliberately promoted a toxic narrative and its speakers are encouraged to go to any lengths to shred political opponents. Unbridled aggression is the hallmark. It knows no boundaries; discrediting, demolishing and destroying their opponents is the only motive. Islam and Muslims are especially targeted.
I don’t know if the BJP and RSS’s volunteers are instructed from the top, but one thing is certain – they are never reprimanded for their abusive behaviour. Instead, they are rewarded. The more abusive they get, the better the chances of promotion.
So, Nupur Sharma crossing the line while talking about Prophet Muhammad was not unexpected; what is unexpected is the reaction of the Muslim countries. For the first time in my long journalistic career and public life, I have seen any country asking India to apologise for a politician, a member of the ruling party.
The reaction is even more surprising because traditionally, India has had very good and friendly relations with the Muslim countries. More than 80 lakh Indians have worked there for decades, and they have never complained of discrimination. Hindus and Muslims were both treated with respect and harmony by local Muslims in these countries.
If countries like Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan and Iran are boiling with anger, if there are calls to boycott Indian products and if there are reports of Indians being sacked, there has to be a deeper reason. It can’t be just this incident.
Despite Modi’s best efforts, a feeling has been growing in the Gulf and other Muslim countries that on Modi’s watch, the Muslim minority has been treated unfairly and the BJP governments at the Centre and in states have either been silent to their plight or have been willing partners. The nations are of the opinion that since the days of mob lynching to the insult of Prophet Muhammad, Muslims are being targeted. From beef bans to anti-conversion laws, from Hijab bans in schools to calls being given by the so-called dharmasansad for the genocide of Indian Muslims, from the blaming of Muslims in the early days of the pandemic to attacks on Muslims for not saying Jai Shri Ram, from the CAA and NRC to repealing Article 370 and the growing perception that during riots only Muslims are charged by law enforcing agencies – there is enough to reinforce their feeling that Muslims are no longer safe in India.
Unfortunately, the debates on TV Channels whose anchors appear blatantly anti-Muslim have aggravated that sentiment. These countries and their groupings have often expressed their disappointment and have tried to convey their feelings to the Indian government through embassies or otherwise. Their views are treated with contempt, not respect.
Two years back, BJP MP Tejasvi Surya had endorsed the most disgusting comment about Arab women on Twitter, which had angered many Muslim countries. The BJP, instead of taking any action against Tejasvi Surya, promoted him as the future leader of the party. If corrective measures had been taken then, leaders like Nupur Sharma would have got the message and she would not have said what she did. This time too, she received support from a senior leader like the ex Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis. I am dead sure if the Gulf nations had not reacted the way they did, the BJP would not have bothered to take any action.
What is more frightening is the outpouring of rage on Twitter and Facebook. The day the party suspended Nupur Sharma, hashtags like #ShameOnBJP, #Cowardice, #StandWithNupurSharma, #WeSupportNupurSharma, #ShameOnModi were trending on Twitter. Thousands of tweets were posted in her support. The BJP leadership’s loyal supporters were abusing them unabashedly. Even Prime Minister Modi was not spared. A similar trend was visible on Twitter when Mohan Bhagwat questioned the need to look for a Shivling in every mosque.
This is a clear sign that the phenomenon which the BJP and its leaders have been riding for many years is now running wild and out of their control. The day is not far when it will start devouring them.
Maybe the BJP leadership is aware of this and that is why it took so long to act against Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal. If Bhagwat and Modi think they have it under control, they must realise that the djinn is out of the bottle.
(Ashutosh is author of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and Editor, satyahindi.com.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.