India’s ruling BJP in damage control mode after Gulf outrage over spokesperson’s remarks

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A supporter of India’s ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) displays cut-outs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath as he celebrates after learning the initial poll results outside its party office in Lucknow, India, March 10, 2022. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar

India’s ruling BJP was in damage control mode after violence broke out in Kanpur and there was a flood of protests on social media, especially in Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, over remarks purported to have been made by its spokesperson and party member that was viewed as disparaging to Islam.

“During the thousands of years of the history of India every religion has blossomed and flourished. The BJP respects all religions,” the party said Sunday May 5, 2022, evening India time. “The BJP strongly denounces insult of any religious personalities of any religion. The BJP is also strongly against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion. The BJP does not promote such people of philosophy,” said the statement, without reference to the statements made on television that have led to considerable disquiet and outrage

On Sunday the party suspended its spokesperson Nupur Sharma from the primary membership of the party following what it said were objectionable and communal statements on Prophet Mohammad and Islam, The Hindu newspaper said. And the Delhi unit of the BJP expelled Naveen Kumar from primary membership.

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The party also released a statement signed by BJP general secretary Arun Singh distancing itself from these statements, without naming either Sharma or Kumar or contextualizing the statement with their utterances, The Hindu said.

The statement then went on to say that “India’s Constitution gives the right to every citizen to practice any religion of his/her choice and to honor and respect every religion. 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.”

According to various Indian media, the swelling controversy over the statements had provoked violence in Kanpur on June 3, and with growing protests in the Gulf countries as well, with calls on social media for a boycott of India. Even the Grand Mufti of Oman, a country with which India has very friendly ties, tweeted from his official account, denouncing the statements.

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