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India's ruling party suspends official over comments about Islam after Gulf outrage

Several Gulf countries summon their respective Indian ambassadors in response to spokeswoman's remarks about Prophet Mohammed
India's Home Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Amit Shah addresses a public rally in Bhojpur district of Bihar state on 23 April (AFP/File photo)

India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has suspended a spokeswoman in response to comments she made during a TV debate about the Prophet Mohammed, which drew widespread outrage in the Gulf. 

The BJP said in a statement on its website that the party respected all religions. "The BJP strongly denounces insult of any religious personalities of any religion."

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Spokeswoman Nupur Sharma, in a post on Twitter, said that her comments about the Muslim prophet were in response to other comments made about a Hindu god, adding that it was never her intention to hurt anyone's religious feelings.

"If my words have caused discomfort or hurt religious feelings of anyone whatsoever, I hereby unconditionally withdraw my statement," she said. 

Another BJP spokesman Naveen Jindal was expelled from the party over comments he made about Islam on social media, the BJP office said.

Jindal said on Twitter he had questioned some comments made against Hindu gods. "I only questioned them but that does not mean I am against any religion."

The BJP statement also said: "The Bharatiya Janata Party is also strongly against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion. The BJP does not promote such people or philosophy." 

Sharma's comments prompted complaints from several Muslim countries, including Saudia Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, where large shopping chains reportedly began removing Indian-made products in response to the insulting remarks. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar said in a statement it had summoned the Indian ambassador over the comments.

The State of Kuwait also summoned the Indian ambassador and said it had handed the ambassador a protest note in which Kuwait rejected and denounced the statements made by the BJP official.

Qatar's foreign ministry statement also said it welcomed the BJP party's decision to suspend the official but said Qatar was expecting a public apology and immediate condemnation of these remarks by the Indian government.

Pakistan said in a statement it condemns in the "strongest possible terms" the highly derogatory remarks. "Pakistan once again calls on the international community to take immediate cognizance of the grievously aggravating situation of Islamophobia in India," it said.