Nupur Sharma Saga: Lessons for the Modi government and the importance of managing narratives

The Nupur Sharma episode should be an alarm for course correction. People are waiting to see India fail. Unfortunately, many of them live in India and still have not come to terms with being deprived of power for so long.

BJP spokeswoman Nupur Sharma has been suspended for her controversial comments about the Prophet Muhammad, which outraged Islamic nations. PTI

They say a week is a long time in politics. Even a weekend can sometimes feel like a month. A few days ago, many across India, barring a few compulsive critics of the current dispensation, were celebrating a virtuoso performance by India’s External Affairs Minister at a European conference where he had to respond to curved questions about India’s foreign policy in a post-Ukrainian world. However, after the events of last Sunday, when Islamic countries in the Middle East strongly objected to a ruling party spokesperson’s statement on a TV debate deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad, the mood has changed. in a few hours.

While there was virtual collapse in the camp of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the party’s decision to suspend the lady in question, Nupur Sharma, and the head of the communication cell of the BJP’s Delhi unit , Naveen Jindal, who they say were thrown under the bus by the party, there was widespread outrage in the anti-BJP camp over the embarrassment he had caused the nation in the world order . This single incident was seen as a dent in the Narendra Modi government’s claims of India’s growing stature in the world. The fine print of the Foreign Ministry’s press release has been analyzed under the microscope. Calling the representative of the ruling party a “marginal” has drawn strong criticism.

Read also : Nupur Sharma was undoubtedly wrong: But why are the liberals quietly supporting the Islamists’ challenge to her right to life?

The government’s discomfiture at the sudden turn of events was seen with visible joy in circles known to be hostile to the Modi government. Many have made it Narendra Modi’s judgment moment. Opinion writers have been busy writing articles about how the countdown has begun for the end of the Modi regime. But this is not the first time Narendra Modi’s political obituary has been written. Whether the Modi government survives or the BJP is re-elected in 2024, time will tell. Likewise, the BJP leadership will take a call on the future of Nupur Sharma. Whether she will be relegated to a footnote in history or her return from exile will depend on her political savvy and fate. For us, the concern should be what this means for India, both domestically and internationally. Disproportionately excessive, this can have implications on several fronts – political, socio-religious, economic, diplomatic and even strategic.

Don’t miss: Suspension of Nupur Sharma: why BJP’s decision is rational

The first is the moment of denouement, if you can call it that. It is somewhat intriguing that the Islamic Gulf countries waited more than a week to react, and that the timing of their outburst coincided with the visit of India’s Vice President to the region. All seemed to speak in unison, adopting the same tone and the same text. In the aftermath, the Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) issued an almost identically worded statement, followed by other Islamic states such as Indonesia. This has of course been amplified by social media in India as well as errant reports of Indians and boycotted Indian products in the Middle East.

Curiously, a few days before this precipitation, the American Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during his speech on the 2021 report on international religious freedom, had cited India among other countries where the cases of attacks against minorities and threats to religious freedom. This had prompted a strong reaction from the MEA, which called the report “misinformed”.

That left some wondering if Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia had been pressured by the United States to take a stand. In fact, Jairam Ramesh of Congress went on to say the same thing in a tweet.

Must Read: The 14 nations that condemned the remarks about the Prophet

Diplomacy is the art of dealing with setbacks and making small signs of progress. India too will surely overcome this minor turbulence – for in an interdependent world there is much at stake for all parties. However, a question arises on the extent to which India will allow foreign powers to influence or dictate national matters, including matters of faith and religion. As a country of 170 million Muslims, the second largest in the world, does India need to be told by others how to handle relations between its own people? The irony is – when sermons come from nations that are openly non-secular, themselves don’t leave much room for the practice of other religions, have an unenviable human rights record, and stand out by their double standard of atrocities or restriction of minority rights in countries of greater economic power such as China and many European states.

A pragmatic response may be to pursue our ambitions and once India achieves economic clout, the rest of the world will follow suit. But it’s the proverbial story of the chicken and the egg. It is precisely India’s economic progress in recent years that is the envy of others. In particular, many are unhappy with India’s improving relations with the Gulf countries – something they had ruled out when the BJP – branded by Western media as a ‘Hindu majority’ party – came to power. In 2014, forces hostile to India’s interests are expected to spread seeds of discord with the countries that matter.

Herein lies the importance of managing narratives and optics – both inside and outside India, which has been the Achilles heel of the Modi government. The government and top BJP leaders are either jaded or genuinely flawed. The Nupur Sharma episode should be an alarm for course correction. People are waiting to see India fail. Unfortunately, many of them live in India and still have not come to terms with being deprived of power for so long. In their rush to change their diet, they are ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. They too must understand that by pushing the boundaries too far and increasing surround sound, they can cause further polarization on either side, which would be a greater threat to secularism and communal harmony.

Of course, Narendra Modi understands the risk. He works for a legacy to leave behind. He will not run the risk of India’s history being derailed at the auspicious hour of “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav”.

The author is a news commentator, marketer, blogger and leadership coach, who tweets at @SandipGhose. The opinions expressed are personal.

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