India's top court says ex-BJP spokeswoman's anti-Islamic remarks 'set country alight'

Comments sparked diplomatic outrage as well as protests that left several dead

Protesters shout slogans during a protest against the recent killing of Hindu tailor Kanhaiya Lal in Udaipur, who was reportedly murdered by two Muslim men for supporting Nupur Sharma. AFP
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India’s top court on Friday called on the former spokeswoman of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party the BJP to “apologise to the nation” for remarks she made about the Prophet Mohammed that sparked widespread protests as well as a diplomatic row.

Nupur Sharma, 37, made incendiary remarks about the Prophet Mohammed during a live television debate in May, triggering global outrage, with about 20 countries, including the UAE, lodging diplomatic protests.

Her remarks have also sparked weeks of domestic protests in which at least two people have been killed by police. And a Hindu tailor was murdered this week by two Muslim men in western Udaipur city for expressing support for Ms Sharma.

A bench comprising Justices Surya Kant and JB Pardiwal chastised Ms Sharma, saying that her “loose tongue” had set the country on fire.

“The way she has ignited emotions across the country … this lady is single-handedly responsible for what is happening in the country,” the judges said.

The court was hearing a petition filed by Ms Sharma seeking and end to police complaints filed against her in different states across India.

Mr Sharma has not been arrested and she said she has received threats to her life.

Her lawyer told the court that she made the comments in response to provocation from a fellow debater and that she has apologised and withdrawn the remarks.

However, the court said it was “too late” and refused to entertain the petition asking to approach the High Court.

An image of then-student leader Nupur Sharma celebrating her win in student elections in New Delhi. AFP

“She has threats or she has become a security threat … she should have gone to the TV and apologised to the nation … she was too late to withdraw [the remarks],” the bench added.

Ms Sharma was suspended from the BJP following diplomatic protests by Muslim-majority nations. The government also sought to distance itself from Ms Sharma, describing her as a “fringe element”.

Last week, Ms Sharma failed to respond to a police summons in Maharashtra state and enhanced her security after publicly accusing Mohammad Zubair, a vocal critic of the government, of endangering her life by tweeting about her remarks.

This week, police arrested Mr Zubair on charges of “hurting religious sentiments” over a four-year-old tweet, purportedly a screenshot of a scene from 1983 Bollywood classic Kissi Se Na Kehna, weeks after he flagged Ms Sharma’s remarks on Twitter, drawing widespread attention.

Updated: July 01, 2022, 6:03 PM