The recent defamatory comments made by BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma and the BJP’s Delhi media cell head Naveen Kumar Jindal against Prophet Muhammad are having repercussions not just in West Asian nations but closer home too, with #IndiaOut protesters in the Maldives now joining the chorus of censure.
The comments led to Nupur Sharma’s suspension and Naveen Jindal’s expulsion from the BJP on June 5 after a diplomatic offensive from several Islamic countries. On June 6, an emergency parliamentary motion in the Maldives filed by opposition member Adam Shareef failed to pressure the Maldivian government to issue a condemnation of these comments. On June 8, however, dustbins have appeared around Hulumalhé Beach Park and Hulumalhé Phase II in the Maldives with posters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s defaced image.
In addition, a functionary of the Jammiyath Al-Salaf, an Islamic NGO based in the Maldives, has called for Narendra Modi to be stripped of The Most Honourable Order of the Distinguished Rule of Nishan Izzuddeen. This is the Maldives’ highest civilian award and was conferred on Modi by President Solih in 2019.
The Maldivian government did issue a statement on June 6: “The Government of Maldives is deeply concerned by the derogatory remarks made by some officials of BJP, India, insulting the holy Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and the religion of Islam.” The opposition Progressive Congress Coalition issued a more direct statement that termed Sharma’s statements as “reprehensible and appalling”. It further stated that such comments were “testament to the growing Islamophobia, systemic racism and caste-based violence in India”.
The Maldivian president Ibrahim Solih is scheduled to speak at a press conference in Malé on June 8 and sources indicate that he will be questioned by members of the Maldivian press about his stance on hate speech against Muslims emanating from the BJP’s officials.
President Solih is widely seen as pro-India. In 2021, the Solih administration and India signed a deal to start the Greater Malé Connectivity Project (GMCP), which will cost an estimated $500 million and will be spearheaded by the Indian infrastructure giant AFCONS.
Since 2020, the archipelagic nation has seen protests against the Maldivian government’s close security and economic partnerships with India. Many Maldivian people are concerned about Indian military presence on some islands and want the exact nature of their government’s agreements with India to be made public.
President Solih also drew the ire of protesters when he banned the ‘India Out’ protests and criminalised them in April. In May, the protesters were back on the streets of Malé, with some questioning if the Maldivian President had the power to criminalise protest.