Ignoring legal, constitutional and moral duties, not lending ears to people’s calls and avoiding to act accordingly are detrimental to a democratic society, avers Syyed Mansoor Agha
The contemptuous outburst of Nupur Sharma castigating the Prophet of Islam ﷺ during a TV show on May 26, thus targeting the sentiments of Muslims, was neither in retaliation of some quip during the debate on her deities nor unthoughtful, as she later asserted in a written statement. Her gleeful mood during the debate is indicative of her planned and intended expression of hatred. She also revealed her preparedness in a post-debate interview and dared Ulema to debate her on her abusive comments on the Prophet ﷺ.
After a journalist and fact-checker Mohammed Zubair shared a clip of her outburst on Twitter, she tweeted to Delhi police, complaining that she was being “bombarded with rape, death and beheading threats against my sister, mother, father and myself”. In her tweets, she tagged PM Modi, UHM Amit Shah, and BJP President JP Nadda. Delhi police granted her Y-grade security to shield her and her family against any harm. Three days later, she told a sympathetic interviewer that “the prime minister’s office, the home minister’s office, and the party president’s office were rallying behind me.”
After huge public and diplomatic backlash from more than 22 countries, the 57-member influential Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and economically strong Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Delhi was pushed to look-in and as a kneejerk reaction, Sharma was suspended from her post of “National Spokesperson of BJP” pending an inquiry. Her staunch supporter Naveen Jindal, then Media Cell In-charge of Delhi BJP was removed from his post and party membership. Inquiry against Sharma is likely to prove just an eye wash and she may be re-instated.
This episode and the political support she wields may make her a more effective vote catcher than she previously was, as voters’ minds are more influenced by religious biases. After Nupur outburst there was a strong call to boycott Indian products which are in tough competition with Chinese goods. Threats were also made to push back Indian workers and traders, mostly Hindus from some GCC countries. They count in millions and regularly send millions of dollars in remittances back home monthly. India’s energy imports are also high from this region.
P.M.’S PERSONAL REPUTATION SINKS
This episode also harmed the personal reputation of P.M. Narendra Modi who is a regular visitor to the region and his efforts for economic cooperation and trade expansion has also yielded some fruit. But huge trends on Twitter to boycott Indian products have started showing some impact. The P.M.’s personal reputation was also hurt as Twitter trends went viral against him. Surely both factors were disturbing. He is the only Indian leader who was honoured with the highest Civilian Awards by KSA, Bahrain and the UAE. Three other Muslim countries, Afghanistan, the Maldives and Palestine also conferred upon him their highest civilian Awards in good faith. So New Delhi was compelled to look downwards and play safe for these reasons.
Had it been on moral grounds, and leaders had shown some courage and vision with at least expressing some remorse, things have become better than normal. But efforts are only to water down the sin and save the sinner. As a result some deep scars will remain in the way. On the other hand, the cohesive relationship of locals and their utter confidence in Hindu workers and traders has also been shaken. The damage may be controlled and cured by complete departure from hate-mongering and reform in the party’s vision.
NOT FRINGE ELEMENTS
In hurting Muslim sentiments Nupur Sharma aimed at promoting divisive politics, following the party line since 2014. She stepped into the footprints of her leaders. However, she is not an ordinary politician. A law graduate fully understands the guilt of law violation. So she is guilty and be punished accordingly. The party had pitched her, against Arvind Kejriwal, in Assembly polls as she is a mature political functionary and fully understands what to say or not to say. She was then elevated to the delicate position of National Spokesperson of the party. How can she be counted as a “fringe element” as BJP said in a statement and our diplomats tried to placate international opposition to her hate speech?
The 37-year-old lady had been a much sought-after “BJP spokesperson” because of her skill of making a point. She extensively participated in TV debates to represent BJP and defended the PM and his government tirelessly. As the situation in the Gulf region was getting alarming, the party acted in a haste, even without calling the guilty person for an explanation. It was not before the internal voices were ignored as the usual warning was issued against any protest. At such moments media coverage energises the rank and file and expectations of the tide in the mood of hardcore vote bank and gullible citizens embolden them.
IGNORING DEMOCRATIC NORMS
We welcome even this action but ignoring democratic norms is harmful for peace and justice. Certainly, it was an internal issue that should have been tackled before anger grew. Ignoring legal, constitutional and moral duties, not lending ears to people’s calls, and avoiding to act accordingly are detrimental to a democratic society. The immediate and visible action in time can surely save our nation from condemnations internationally. But neo-Nationalists have turned it upside down. Personal and national morality is debunked for some votes and strengthening party grip. It is shameful that even after a judge ordered, the Government abdicated from taking action on bad-mouthed leaders. Such instances encourage others to violate the law. What Nupur Sharma said in TV demanded immediate action under Sections 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code but no action was taken.
On June 8 Delhi Police registered two FIRs naming Nupur Sharma, Jindal, and 30 others, including firebrand Hindu Mahasabha activist Pooja Shakun Pandey (Aligarh), Mufti Nadeem of Rajasthan, journalist Saba Naqvi and Shadam Chauhan of Peace Party on the basis of their social media posts. Notices are being sent to all. This action came about two weeks after her May 26 outburst and three days after the party removed her on June 5. In the past too Delhi Police registered FIRs in several cases of hate speech but no further action was reported. Bombay Police has also registered a case against Nupur and sent her a notice to appear on June 22.
However, no cognizance has ever been taken on the role of media houses playing second fiddle in spreading hate speech and misinformation. They are also guilty of providing platforms and promoting rabble-rousers. Regulatory bodies and authorities have completely abdicated their duty. In some cases, senior leaders also become part of the tide and have no introspection.
It is for the first time that so many countries (at least 22) and their organisations as well as the UN have raised their voices. Had it not been better if our leaders had shown some alertness to avoid such an intimidating situation? The ruling party needs to introspect and shun greed to remain clutched to power at the cost of morality and the nation’s reputation. Guide your steps in tandem with the Constitution. The Preamble calls to secure justice, liberty and equality for all citizens and promote fraternity to maintain unity and integrity of the nation. While calling for Uniform Civil Code, guarantee quick and cost-free justice, liberty, equality and fraternity among all citizens and not destroy our age-old social fabric of fraternity, mutual respect and tolerance.
[The writer is Chairman, Forum for Civil Rights. [email protected]]