India’s top court slams ruling party’s ex-spokesperson over Prophet remarks: ‘Loose tongue set country on fire’

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India’s Supreme Court has come down heavily on a former spokesperson for Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for making incendiary remarks on prophet Muhammad by saying she had a “loose tongue” that “set the entire country on fire”.

The top court judge who made the remarks on Friday was referring to increasing incidents of communal polarisation in several parts of India, like the recent beheading of a Hindu tailor earlier this week.

Nupur Sharma, the former spokesperson for the BJP, had made inflammatory comments against prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha on a debate aired on TV news channel Times Now on 26 May.

Hearing a plea filed by Ms Sharma to club police complaints filed against her in different states, Justice Surya Kant who presided over the two-judge bench said she was entirely responsible for what was happening in the country.

“The way she has ignited emotions across the country... This lady is single handedly responsible for what is happening in the country,” Mr Kant said, adding that Ms Sharma should apologise to the entire country for the remarks.

The judge also questioned whether Ms Sharma “faces threats or she has become security threat”.

Her comments had put the country at the centre of a diplomatic storm after over a dozen west Asian countries issued statements of condemnation, leading to her suspension from the BJP.

There have also been protests in different parts of India, neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh against Ms Sharma’s statements, demanding action against her.

Violent clashes were reported in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur city on 4 June, which left several people, including police officers injured.

On Tuesday, a Hindu tailor was brutally beheaded in Rajasthan’s Udaipur city by two cleaver-wielding Muslim men in a religious killing that sparked communal tension in surrounding areas.

The victim had allegedly shared a social media post supporting Ms Sharma.

Lashing out at the news channel for giving Ms Sharma a platform to air inflammatory views, Mr Kant said: “What is the business of the TV channel to discuss the matter which is sub-judice, except to promote an agenda?”

Ms Sharma had made the comments while appearing in a debate over the contentious issue of the 17th century Gyanvapi Mosque that Hindu nationalist organisations allege was built following the destruction of a temple dedicated to Hindu diety Shiva.

“If there is a misuse of the debate, the first thing she should have done was to file an FIR [First Information Report – the first step in any police probe in India] against the anchor.”

Times Now had later issued a statement distancing itself from Ms Sharma’s comments.

Appearing in court for Ms Sharma, her counsel Maninder Singh said she was provoked by the other participants of the debate and that she had issued an apology.

The bench, however, dismissed her apology as “conditional” and called her comments “disturbing” and “shameful as a lawyer”.

Ms Sharma is a lawyer and has an LLM degree from the London School of Economics.

“What is her business to make these remarks? She should have gone to the TV and apologised to the nation,” the bench said.

“She was too late to withdraw... and that too she withdraws conditionally, saying ‘if sentiments hurt’.”

After her suspension, Ms Sharma tweeted an apology that had attempted to justify her remarks.

The court said Ms Sharma’s statements on the debate were provocative.

“These are not religious people at all, they make statements to provoke.”

Dismissing her petition, alleging a threat to her life and requesting the clubbing of FIRs against her, the court asked her counsel to seek other remedies.

“The petition smacks of her arrogance, that the Magistrates of the country are too small for her,” the court said.

“If you are a spokesperson of a party, it is not a license to say things like this.”

The court also slammed the role of the Delhi police that is administered by the federal government’s home ministry, headed by Mr Modi’s aide Amit Shah.

“What has the Delhi police done? Don’t make us open our mouth,” the court said.

“When a FIR is registered and you are not arrested, this shows your clout. She thinks she has back up power and makes irresponsible statements.”

The court ultimately dismissed her petition, saying that the “conscience of the court is not satisfied” and told Ms Sharma to explore alternate remedies.

Ms Sharma is a familiar face on Indian television news debate shows, known to host debates on inflammatory topics.

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