Nupur Sharma: Police file complaint against India’s ruling party official for remarks on prophet Muhammad

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Police in India’s capital New Delhi have registered a complaint against Nupur Sharma, the former national spokesperson for prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Ms Sharma’s inflammatory comments against prophet Muhammad put the country at the centre of a diplomatic storm from west Asian nations.

“We have registered two FIRs [First Information Report] under appropriate sections on the basis of social media analysis against those trying to disrupt public tranquility and inciting people on divisive lines,” the police said in a Twitter statement on Thursday.

“One pertains to Ms Nupur Sharma & other against multiple social media entities (sic).”

A complaint or FIR is the first process in any police investigation in India and is typically followed by questioning of the accused.

“Even as Notices are being sent to social media intermediaries for details of those behind these accounts/entities, Delhi Police appeals to everyone to desist from posting anything that may disrupt social and communal harmony,” the statement added.

While one complaint has been lodged against Ms Sharma, the other has been registered against eight people including Naveen Kumar Jindal, the expelled head of Delhi BJP’s media unit.

Others against whom complaints were registered included journalist Saba Naqvi, Hindu Mahasabha office bearer Pooja Shakun Pandey, Maulana Mufti Nadeem from Rajasthan and politicians Shadab Chauhan and Asaduddin Owaisi.

“The FIR is against multiple individuals from different religions. We are investigating the role of various social media entities in promoting false and wrong information with an intention to create unrest,” KPS Malhotra, a senior police officer, told The Indian Express.

Both Ms Sharma and Mr Jindal had been expelled by the BJP on 5 June after outrage from west Asian countries over their derogatory comments and insults to prophet Muhammad.

On Wednesday, the Al-Qaeda threatened suicide bombings in India over Ms Sharma’s comments.

Ms Sharma had made the comments in an appearance on right-wing Indian television news channel Times Now on 26 May.

Mr Jindal had, in a now deleted tweet, also made derogatory comments against Islam and the prophet.

Since then, over a dozen countries, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran raised objections to Ms Sharma’s comments.

Additional complaints were also filed against Ms Sharma in western Maharashtra state.

On Friday, India’s only woman chief minister of West Bengal state, Mamata Banerjee, called for Ms Sharma’s arrest.

There have also been protests in different parts of India against Ms Sharma’s statements.

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

After her suspension last Sunday, Ms Sharma issued an “unconditional” apology in a statement on Twitter but also attempted to justify her remarks.

“I have been attending TV debates for the past many days where our Mahadev [Hindu god Shiv] was being insulted and disrespected continuously. It was mockingly being said that it is not Shivling but a fountain.”

Ms Sharma was referring to television debates over the contentious issue of the 17th century Gyanvapi Mosque, that Hindu nationalist organisations claim was built following the destruction of a Shiva temple.

“I could not tolerate this continuous insult and disrespect towards our Mahadev and I said some things in response to it,” she had added in her apology.

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

The 37-year-old is a lawyer and a graduate of Delhi University and has an LLM degree from London School of Economics, according to a report in Hindi-language newspaper Amar Ujala.

As a student in Delhi University, Ms Sharma was elected as the students’ union president in 2008 on a ticket from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

The ABVP is the student wing of BJP’s ideological parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

She grabbed headlines that year after an ABVP protest against Delhi University professor SAR Geelani.

Geelani had been accused in the 2001 Parliament attacks case, but was acquitted by the country’s Supreme Court in 2019.

Ms Sharma was part of 50 activists who had stormed Geelani’s event. One of the activists had also spat at Geelani.

“We protested peacefully, maybe a few stones were thrown, that’s all,” Ms Sharma had been quoted as saying by The Telegraph newspaper in 2008.

She had subsequently become a prominent member of the BJP’s youth wing, of which she became the media head in 2010 and was later part of the BJP’s Delhi unit in 2013 where she rose quickly through the ranks.

She was chosen by the party to contest against Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in the 2015 Delhi elections but had lost by 31,000 votes.

Her appearances on television shows have often been marred with controversy due to her comments.

In July 2020, she sparked outrage online for an appearance on another right-wing television channel Republic, where she called a fellow panelist “uncouth”, a “moron” and other abusives.

A few months later in September, Ms Sharma was made one of the national spokespersons for the party by BJP president JP Nadda.

The BJP has said in its statement last week that it supports all religions equally even as India has reported a spate of communal clashes in recent years.

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