India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in dire need of a serious retrospection of its policies regarding the treatment of minorities and their religious sentiments. It’s not the first time that BJP leadership had indulged in hurting the feelings of Muslims living in India and elsewhere, there are numerous examples where the BJP-supported Shiv Sena and the RSS activists brutally victimized Muslims on a mere assumption of consuming beef. However, this time, highly slanderous comments against Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during a television debate by BJP spokeswoman Nupur Sharma has triggered violence in India and caused uproar in the Muslim world. While Naveen Jindal, who was media head of the party’s Delhi unit, had posted a controversial tweet on the issue. The track record of the BJP shows that it has been in the habit of adopting silence on issues related to religion-based hate crimes which showed its covert support for the anti-Muslim agenda but this time a strong backlash from the Arab world forced New Delhi to take a prompt action resulting in the suspension of Ms Sharma and expulsion of Mr Jindal from the party. The controversial remarks have invited a strong backlash and put at stake both India’s reputation as well as its trade interests. There is a call for a boycott of Indian products in the Middle East while GCC members comprising Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE have registered a strong protest and demanded a public apology from the Indian government. There is a call for stronger action against the irresponsible selection of words as mere suspension from the party membership cannot prove an effective deterrence against religious bigotry.
The Indian government needs to take stock of its policies of creating polarisation in society. In today’s world, no political party can survive by supporting religion-based extremism. India is hailed as the world’s ‘largest democracy’, a shining example of ‘secularism’ and ‘cosmopolitanism’ in a region marred by religious conflicts, and an emerging great power brimming with potential set to dominate the 21st century. This image of a ‘Shining India’ has been built up over the past few decades and as a result, India has been enthusiastically embraced by the US and its allies, leading tech companies, investors from around the globe and even Hollywood. The stability enjoyed by India’s parliamentary democracy is certainly enviable, but this supremely upbeat representation of India can come crashing down if a political party like BJP never distances itself from extreme views. There are certain limits to the right of freedom of speech as it cannot be absolute. A person needs to exercise extra care when he is given a public platform to take part in a debate or express his feelings. The remarks that create anarchy in society or hurt religious sentiments do not come under the preview of ‘freedom of speech’. The Muslims have a great attachment to Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and they cannot tolerate any incendiary remarks. Therefore, it is a wake-up call for the Indian government led by BJP to quit its policies of religion-based extremism and work on creating harmony in the true sense.