BJP general secretary Ram Madhav on Friday disapproved of the "hounding, abuses, death-wishes and obscenities" aimed at Union minister Sushma Swaraj on social media in a row over passport application of an interfaith couple, describing her as a leader who has championed the cause of nationalism for over four decades.
In an article in a leading English daily, he also said that difference of opinion in such matters is plausible and valid but it would be improper to blame the external affairs minister for a decision like transfer of a passport official accused of asking irrelevant questions to the couple about their religions.
Mr Madhav's defence of Ms Swaraj is the first instance of a senior BJP office-bearer offering a detailed public response on the controversy. He is also considered close to the RSS.
Ms Swaraj was viciously attacked after her ministry had issued a passport to Tanvi Seth, days after she accused Lucknow-based passport officer Vikas Mishra of harassing her and her husband Anas Siddiqui.
Ms Seth had made a slew of allegations against Mr Mishra, including asking her husband to convert to Hinduism and pulling her up for marrying a Muslim. The passport official, who claimed that he made only professional enquiries, was subsequently transferred.
"Every issue that involves two different religionists need not be seen from a religious prism alone. There can be secular issues involving people of different religions. They should be seen from a purely administrative or governance prism," Mr Madhav argued.
"A difference of opinion in these matters is plausible and valid as well. What is not valid is the hounding, the abuse, the death-wishes, the obscenities like calling her Begum Sushma or worse commenting on her health and kidney - or a retired professor asking her husband to beat her up," he said.
All this was done to a leader who championed the cause of nationalism for over four decades in the rough and tumble of the country's politics, by those who claim allegiance to the very same ideology, Mr Madhav added.
A number of social media users who attacked Ms Swaraj are seen to be vocal supporters of the BJP. She responded with dignity; so has her husband, he said.
Mr Madhav said the case should actually have been used against the "regressive clerics" who insist upon changing the name of a Hindu woman to that of a Muslim in the 'nikahnama' as in most cases it is done against the wishes of the women.
Her 'nikahnama' gives out her name as Shadia but all other documents, including the Aadhaar card and her bank accounts, mention her name as Tanvi Seth, he said.
"The benefit of doubt, thus, goes in Tanvi Seth's favour as one who decided to retain her Hindu name even after marrying a Muslim man - mind you, some 15 years ago," he said.
Such instances of individuals retaining their religious identity, even after inter-religious marriages, are numerous and there are many such prominent people in public life, including in the BJP, he said.
"Unfortunately in this case, a woman who stood up and said I wish to continue as a Hindu has become the villain and the regressive cleric who changed her name to a Muslim became the hero," Mr Madhav said.
To a response to his article on Twitter that said the real issue was that the minister generalised faceless abusive trolls with core supporters by not distinguishing in her reaction and let "Lutyens MSM" hammer around her own supporters, Mr Madhav said, "Agree. An opportunity seized by the adversaries to attack supporters." MSM is a term often used to refer to mainstream media.