One of the most distressing aspects of the incident in which the Bharatiya Janata Party was forced to take action against two of its leaders Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal is that it all happened in a news-channel discussion. That raises another question, why no action was taken against the channel authorities who allowed the impugned discussion to take place. It is not that the unacceptable comments made against the Prophet Mohammed had gone unnoticed. In fact, it caused outrage on social media and many people condemned it. Worse, it even led to riot-like situations in some places in Uttar Pradesh. The party’s action against the duo would have carried greater conviction with the masses if it was taken promptly. Alas, the BJP reacted only after several countries in West Asia, including Qatar, where Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu was on an official visit, expressed their sense of shock and some even demanded an apology from India. To be fair to Naidu, he has utilised the visit to allay fears about any community being targeted in India and highlighted the inclusive nature of the Constitutional scheme of things in the country. Even earlier, in 2020, India’s envoy to the UAE Pavan Kapoor was forced to tell off Indian Islamophobes amidst outrage over ‘Islamophobic’ slurs. At the time, sentiment against the Tablighi Jamaat, accusing them of spreading COVID-19, was being fomented domestically.
Over the past months, we have seen well-publicised insults and incitement to violence and murder in Dharam Sansads. They received party approval and BJP chief ministers and ministers seconded them, speaking in the same tone. Offenders were often fast-tracked to party positions, while in contrast, the police in BJP states moved with alacrity to arrest comedians or citizens making casual comments about the Prime Minister or Uttar Pradesh chief minister.
The despicable comments about Islam and the Prophet made by Bharatiya Janata Party spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal, made on a live TV programme from India’s biggest newspaper group, were all in a day’s work. With pliant and propagandist media enabling hate speech to go unchecked on live TV to please the ruling party, personal comments on Islam and its holy Prophet have gone too far, enraging West Asian Islamic nations which this government is very anxious to keep on its side. Tweets from West Asia said that the anti-Islam statements were made by leaders close to Modi. People documenting hate speech and calls for violence have established that the BJP was goaded to action by calls for an economic boycott of Indian goods and angry comments from social media handles with a large following in West Asia, including that of the Grand Mufti of the Oman mosque.
The immediate question is why television channel discussions end up in such an explosive manner? Evening discussions are held to enlighten the viewers about breaking events so that they get a fair idea of various aspects of the subject concerned. Political leaders representing a wide spectrum of public opinion and experts are invited to give their opinion, which are supposedly moderated by an anchor person. Alas, many of the participants see the discussions as an opportunity to score brownie points over their rivals and they, often, use the power of their vocal cords for this purpose. More often than not, the viewers are left wondering what new knowledge they gained by watching the programme. The anchor persons, who are supposed to moderate the discussions, use the power of the mic to dominate the discussions and veer them to a set direction. They also have to improve the TRP ratings to prove how successful they are. When good old journalism is not what they pursue, they do not even mind letting the ruling party spokesperson get away with such outlandish comments as made by Nupur Sharma who was fielded against Delhi Chief Minister in the last Assembly elections.
Had the anchor person been more vigilant and sensible, the controversy that created a bad image for the country could have been averted. There would also have been no need for the government to do the kind of fire-fighting that it has been doing. It was only a few weeks ago that the Information and Broadcasting Minister warned television channels about the need to exercise caution while discussing the Ukraine war and giving headlines. There are hundreds of television channels in the country, not to mention the thousands that operate with equipment as minimal as a high-end smartphone. Incidentally, the comment that Nupur Sharma made about the Prophet reached a wider audience only when the video clip was shared with provocative comments on social media forcing the channel to delete it. The action against the two spokespersons should prompt the party and the government to be more proactive in dealing with hate speech. They did not crown themselves with glory when a young party leader, who made an offensive statement that rankled Muslims the world over, was eventually promoted and made an MP. It is this kind of encouragement that prompts many a party leader to look for Shivling in every mosque, to use RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s own words. Let it be made clear that harvesters of hate have no place in India.