Hi, this is Hot Mic and I’m Nidhi Razdan.
For the last few days, clashes and violence have hit several Indian cities as tensions grow over derogatory comments made by former BJP spokespersons on the Prophet and Islam. It was about two weeks ago, that the BJP’s national spokesperson Nupur Sharma, first made controversial comments while on a TV debate.
This was followed a few days later by tweets put out by a Delhi BJP spokesperson, Naveen Kumar Jindal, which also led to outrage. In the days following Nupur Sharma’s statement, many voices on social media expressed their objections, calling her comments Islamophobic as they were targeted directly at the Prophet. For millions of Muslims around the world, this was the red line that the BJP had crossed. And that is why in unprecedented diplomatic protests, India faced a massive backlash from Gulf countries and even other Muslim nations, like Indonesia and the Maldives.
The government said the views of the spokespersons were those of the fringe and that they did not represent the government’s view. Of course, both the spokespersons ended up being suspended or sacked from the BJP. But if the BJP was hoping the controversy would now die down, they were completely off the mark.
On the contrary, there was outrage at home about why the BJP had reacted to foreign governments and not to the outrage of its own people. As the days passed, that anger grew, as did demands to arrest Nupur Sharma for creating disharmony amongst religions. On social media, official BJP handle stayed silent. On TV, BJP spokespersons were instructed not to come on any debates on the topic and stick to issues about development and poverty alleviation. Even RSS media panelists were barred from any television appearance on the issue. But the BJP’s very vocal, very right wing group of social media supporters did not hide their anger and disappointment with the government, accusing them of leaving Nupur out to hang dry and of capitulating to Muslim countries whose own democratic credentials are less than stellar or frankly, non-existent.
On Friday, several cities saw protests erupt against Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal’s comments, including at Delhi’s Jama Masjid, in Howrah in Bengal, Ranchi, where two people died in clashes and in UP in Prayagraj, in Saharanpur and Kanpur. There were also peaceful shutdowns in Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley. There were also uncalled for and outrageous demands to hang Nupur Sharma by an extremist crowd, which was shockingly endorsed by AIMIM MP, Imtiaz Jaleel. His boss, Asaduddin Owaisi later clarified that his party did not endorse these views and wanted Nupur Sharma to be dealt with within the law of the land.
But the protests in Uttar Pradesh have drawn the ire of the state government, which has put bulldozers into action straight away. In a highly controversial move, local authorities razed down the homes of two of the accused in Saharanpur’s violence. And on Sunday, bulldozers rolled down in Prayagraj under heavy police presence, demolishing the home of a local politician accused of leading the violence on Friday. Demolitions were also carried out in Kanpur, where violent clashes and stone throwing took place on the 3rd of June over the same issue.
The Uttar Pradesh police have arrested more than 300 people from various districts in the state in connection with Friday’s protests and violence, with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath warning of the strictest action against those attempting to vitiate the atmosphere as he put it. This bulldozer strategy has been strongly criticized by legal experts who say it makes a mockery of the justice system and of due process.
What is the point of courts if governments pronounce guilt and innocence? And importantly, there is actually no law that allows authorities to bulldoze the homes of even those found guilty of a crime. India’s communal fault lines are clearly simmering, and it may take more than a BJP suspension of two spokespersons to douse it.