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‘Don’t want to get into new controversy after Nupur Sharma’ — Why BJP is quiet on Rushdie attack

The Print logo The Print 16-08-2022 Neelam Pandey
© Provided by The Print

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has maintained a studied silence about the attack on author Salman Rushdie, a decision that some party leaders attribute to the outrage that former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s controversial comments on the Prophet Muhammad in May had generated globally, especially in the Arab countries.

While the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have condemned the attack, most other opposition parties have also refrained from commenting on the incident, which took place in New York on 12 August. 

India was under the Rajiv Gandhi government when it became the first country to ban Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses” in 1988.

The novel had generated controversy for

“insulting” Islam and the Prophet.

ThePrint reached out to at least half a dozen BJP leaders and functionaries for their reaction, but they refused to speak. A senior party functionary said that whatever had to be said was said by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar

“I also read about it. This is something that the whole world has noticed and the whole world has reacted to such an attack,” Jaishankar had told the media Saturday in Bengaluru.

Sharma’s remarks on the Prophet Muhammad had led to global outrage, with many Arab countries raising the issue with the Indian government. Subsequently, Sharma was suspended from the BJP in June, and party spokespersons were unofficially asked not to comment on the matter. 

Speaking to ThePrint, a BJP leader said, “The Nupur Sharma controversy has finally subsided, and the party does not want to get into any new controversy. When the external affairs minister was asked about the issue, he did comment. So, it is not that the BJP is shying away. But we don’t see any need to comment on this matter at this particular time.” 

In contrast, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), another Sangh Parivar organisation, has been quite vocal about the attack, which left the author with grave stab wounds. VHP central working president Alok Kumar tweeted condemning the attack on the Booker Prize winner.

The attack on @SalmanRushdie is an attack on the most cherished values of freedom of thought, free speech and expression by religious fanatics. This has to be resisted and defeated.@VHPDigital pic.twitter.com/nkNQMjBLSA

— Alok Kumar Sr. Advocate (@AlokKumarLIVE) August 13, 2022

VHP national spokesperson Vinod Bansal also questioned the alleged silence of Muslim ulemas (clerics) on the episode. “Why are the Muslim ulemas and their institutions silent on the cowardly attack on the writer, and those who are the advocates of the freedom of expression,” he said in his response to ThePrint. 

Also Read: Salman Rushdie trapped by alliance of implacably regressive and insufferably progressive

Bitter lessons learnt?

During the Sharma episode, the BJP had issued a statement denouncing insults to any religious personality. 

The BJP leader quoted above said, “There are so many incidents taking place every day across the world, and the BJP can’t be held responsible for not commenting on it. We want to focus on the work done by the Modi government and strengthen the party further. International issues are being dealt with by the right ministry, which is the external affairs ministry.”

However, another BJP leader claimed there is no official direction not to speak on the matter. “We have been opposing radical Islamic fundamentalism for many decades. The BJP in the past has spoken against it. While senior leaders are being careful in not commenting officially, there is no direction not to speak on the issue,” said the leader.

Even in the opposition camp, only a few leaders from the Congress and the Shiv Sena have condemned the attack. ThePrint reached out to Pawan Khera, the chairman of Congress media and publicity department, who claimed that a tweet he had posted on 13 August condemning the attack was the official reaction of the party.  

I strongly condemn the cowardly attack on #SalmanRushdie. Those who don’t like what he writes are free to write and counter him. Enemies of humanity don’t get to decide and enforce frameworks for creativity.

— Pawan Khera 🇮🇳 (@Pawankhera) August 13, 2022

Apart from Khera, a few senior Congress leaders, including Shashi Tharoor and Kapil Sibal, have also come out against the attack. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi are among the leaders of other parties who have condemned the assault.

Political analyst and Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav argues that there’s a “lack of consistency” within the “secular” camp.  “Secularism that began as an ideological conviction, soon turned into a political convenience. It is this that has led to a strategic silence today on issues related to the Muslim community as a whole and their silence on Hindus,” he told ThePrint.

The BJP cannot afford to anger the Arab world after the Nupur Sharma controversy, Yadav asserted.

“The BJP’s muted response is in no way related to the sentiments of the Indian Muslims. The BJP doesn’t care about what they think. But for the Gulf patrons, the BJP doesn’t want to annoy them twice in two months,” he added.  

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: It wasn’t easy to support Salman Rushdie in Bangladesh. Then I realised fatwas are contagious

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