By Siri Ratnam
San Jose, California
India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suspended spokeswoman Nupur Sharma following a series of Islamophobic comments made during a televised debate regarding the Prophet Muhammed. Sharma’s comments received severe backlash from Indian Muslims and several Muslim nations. On June 16th, Delhi Police announced that they would be further investigating the nature of Sharma’s comments, “on the basis of social media analysis against those trying to disrupt public tranquility and inciting people on divisive lines.” The BJP has also suspended Sharma in an attempt to distance themselves from her actions, referring to her remarks as “views of fringe elements.” In an official statement, the BJP said it was “against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion,” hoping to strike peace with Islamic nations.
Nupur Sharma graduated from Delhi University with a degree in Law, where she first became affiliated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student branch of the Sangh Parivar, known for Hindu nationalism. After graduating from the London School of Economics with her Master’s in Law and becoming a lawyer, Sharma began work with the BJP and was later appointed as the official spokesperson for the Delhi unit. However, it was not until 2020 that Sharma became the national spokesperson for the BJP. Sharma quickly became known for her assertive remarks and was highly sought-after for TV debates due to her young and energetic presentation and knowledge of legal jargon. The current controversy with which Sharma is involved began with an appearance on a televised debate where she made several comments about the Prophet Muhammed that were deemed Islamophobic and offensive. Though most news outlets have not quoted her statements, she withdrew them afterwards saying it was not her intention to “hurt anyone’s religious feelings.” Sharma’s statements reflect a continuing trend in India, cracking down on Indian Muslims directly in correlation with the rise of the BJP, a party that’s almost synonymous with Hindu nationalism.
While such remarks would naturally spark controversy anywhere in the world, they are particularly inflammatory in a nation with the demographics of India. After Indonesia and Pakistan, India is home to the third largest Muslim population in the world at around 200 million as of 2022. On top of that, India has a long standing history of violence and division between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority, leaving plenty of room for lingering resentment in both groups. Sharma’s statements have led to a rise in protests among Muslims in India. For instance, in Kanpur, approximately 54 people were arrested due to the protests. Global audiences have also reacted negatively, particularly in Islamic nations. The hashtag “Anyone but the Prophet, oh Modi” trending in the Gulf nations and several Islamic nations have issued statements of condemnation, with the chief religious figure of Oman, Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Khalili, even going so far as to cite the incident as “a war on all Muslims.”
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has not said anything in response to the incident, Indian embassies in Islamic nations have attempted to mitigate the backlash through suggesting that the Indian government is not represented by Sharma’s remarks. However, support for Sharma has grown since her suspension, and seeing as many politicians have gotten away with making abrasive remarks in the past, it is thought that Sharma’s career may only grow after this incident.