New Delhi: A day after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suspended its national spokesperson Nupur Sharma and expelled the party’s Delhi media cell chief Naveen Kumar Jindal, for their controversial statements against Prophet Muhammad, there was a sense of unease among BJP leaders Monday. Many claimed the episode was a lesson for those who “don’t think before speaking”.
Though no advisory or internal directions have been issued officially by the party for national spokespersons, at least two state units have advised its spokespersons and media panelists to focus on the achievements made during eight years of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and not “cross the line” while being present on television debates, ThePrint has learnt.
Many within the BJP also claimed that national general secretary Arun Singh’s statement about respecting all religions is being viewed as a message to “fringe elements” within the party.
The action against Sharma and Jindal came shortly after the BJP issued a statement denouncing insult to any religious personality, and is said to be the fallout of the party’s growing unease over statements being made against Muslims.
The controversial comments made by the two BJP leaders had made India the target of a diplomatic offensive, with countries like Qatar, Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Pakistan summoning Indian envoys posted there. The Taliban government in Afghanistan and Sheikh Abdur Rahman Al Sudais, Imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca were also among those who condemned the statements.
The BJP leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was believed to be upset with Sharma’s statement against the Prophet, made during a television debate.
Some in the BJP claimed, however, that BJP action against Sharma and Jindal should not be seen as messaging for all the spokespersons and that the statement made by them were in fact an “aberration”.
“I would not see Nupur Sharma’s episode as a message to all the spokespersons. Our focus has always been on gareeb kalyan (welfare of the poor) and development. And if something happens that forces us to deviate from that, then we do course correction which is what has happened in this case. PM Modi’s focus has always been on pro-poor policies and developemnt and we can’t allow anything that shifts attentions from that,” said a senior BJP leader.
He further said that the party felt this incident was shifting the focus from the core agenda of the government and hence the need for suspension.
ThePrint also reached the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for a comment on action against Sharma and Jindal, but the RSS refused comment, citing it to be an internal matter of the party.
‘Face lot of pressure in TV debates’
According to sources, the Delhi unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), after expelling media in-charge Naveen Kumar Jindal for his controversial statement, has issued an advisory asking members to keep the focus on eight years of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and highlight achievements made during those years in their debates.
“A direction has been given to all to only highlight and speak on issues related to the Modi government and its policies. If they are invited for debates they should focus on highlighting the work that has been done by the Modi government at the Centre in easing the lives of millions of people,” said a Delhi BJP leader.
The Delhi unit has also advised spokespersons and leaders to not cross the line of propriety and “think before speaking”, especially on TV debates and social media, ThePrint has learnt.
“Words have the ability to leave a lasting impact and hence should be chosen wisely. The BJP respects every religion and hence hurting anyone’s religious sentiments is simply not acceptable,” added the Delhi BJP leader.
He further said that “The job of our spokespersons is to defend the party’s policies and its ideology, but care should be taken that we don’t disrespect or hurt anyone else’s sentiments, especially religious sentiments.”
The leader also said that while no advisory has been issued to avoid TV debates or programmes which discuss religious issues, members have been asked to choose their words “carefully”.
What also made Sharma and Jindal’s case important was that the flak from foreign countries and PM Modi’s global image was involved, said a second central BJP leader.
“We have to run the government too. This episode was hurting PM Modi’s global image. He is a leader who is loved by all including the Gulf nations. Our government has worked for all sections of the society irrespective of caste, creed and religion and this episode had the potential to threaten that image which has taken years to be built and hence the action,” he said.
According to sources in the BJP, the Madhya Pradesh media unit has always been told to keep the focus on development and pro-poor policies of the state and central governments, in their public statements. A meeting of the state unit’s media department was held Monday.
“A meeting was held Monday, wherein apart from other issues, it was also conveyed that one needs to stay away from ‘fizool ki baatein’ (useless talks) and focus on our main agenda which is sabka saath, sabka vikas and sabka vishwaas,” said a senior BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh.
A third central party leader said that BJP’s national spokespersons will continue to put their views ‘strongly’.
Referring to Arun Singh’s statement on respecting all regions, the leader said, “They (party spokespersons) will continue to defend the party in TV debates or on social media but care must be taken that they don’t cross the limit. Though centrally no advisory has been issued, but many are viewing the statement by Arun Singh as a message to all.”
Meanwhile some of the party’s national spokespersons spoke of the “kind of pressure” they face everyday during television debates.
“Everyone is busy painting us with the same brush. There is so much pressure on us to perform when we go for these TV debates. Right from the central leaders, people, everyone is watching our performance. Just look at the names of some of the programmes to which we are invited (the names are controversial) and then we are blamed for producing toxic content,” said a spokesperson.
He added: “I sincerely hope this episode (a reference to Sharma) will help remove the premium TV debates put on polarisation. At a certain level even the media needs to introspect. Nupur made those remarks in a highly-charged TV debate.”
This report was updated to correct a typo.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)