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Shaheen Bagh

Shaheen Bagh

By the time this appears in print, the Delhi Police would have forcibly evicted the protestors at Shaheen Bagh. My certainty stems from the fact that Union Home Minister Amit Shah had warned that if the BJP came to power in Delhi, he would immediately ask the police to remove the protestors. The likelihood of the BJP winning Delhi is remote but the possibility of Shaheen Bagh becoming a thing of the past is very much a reality.

Though a three-cornered contest is to the advantage of the BJP, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is set to return to power with a reduced margin. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is entitled to take credit for the fact that he campaigned solely on his party’s performance during the last five years. However, at times he, too, had been adversely influenced by the vicious campaign unleashed by the BJP.

That is how Kejriwal was forced to recite the Hanuman Chalisa in public to prove that he was a Hindu who practiced his religion by regularly going to temples. He, perhaps, did not know that he was merely succumbing to pressure. It evoked a retort from Adityanath, who claims to be a Yogi, that a particular Muslim leader from Hyderabad would also be forced to recite the Chalisa.

What the UP Chief Minister did not know was that a forced prayer was not a prayer, just as a forced confession was not a confession. Both have to come from within and that is why there is no remorse from Shah and Company for what happened in Gujarat in the wake of Godhra. Right from the beginning, the BJP had been unabashedly using Shaheen Bagh to polarise the voters.

The party tried its level best to have Kejriwal visit the Shaheen Bagh protestors but when the Chief Minister saw the political danger in it, he refused to go there. For the BJP which had little to show by way of achievements, Shaheen Bagh naturally became the fulcrum of its campaign. The campaign showed the depth to which the party could go to pit voters against voters on religious grounds.

All kinds of lies were uttered to link Kejriwal with Shaheen Bagh. That Biryani was served to the protestors, little realising that there was a thing called vegetable biryani. In fact, vegetable biryani can be eaten without any side dishes, barring salad or pickle. Of course, this was the mildest criticism the BJP made.

The worst was when a BJP leader gave vent to his anger and said that Shaheen Bagh was sheltering men who could rape “our” sisters and mothers. He said this when some of his party men, including a former Union minister and a sanyasi to boot, was facing charges of rape. Another said that it heralded the return of the Moghul rule. Why was the BJP so paranoiac about Shaheen Bagh?

It is a small locality near Kalindi Kunj on the Delhi-Noida road, officially known as Road No. 13 A. It is a busy area where many shoe companies have factory outlets selling footwear at cheap rates. The area is not very far from Jamia Millia Islamia, which witnessed the strongest anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests. A large mosque in the area lends strength to the theory that it is a Muslim stronghold. Was Shaheen Bagh merely a Muslim protest?

When the Assam government orders release of all the non-Muslims detained by the police because their names did not figure in the citizenship register, it proves beyond a shadow of doubt that the whole exercise is targeted against Muslims. It was the first time religion was used to determine the crime of a person.

Given this backdrop, it was not surprising that Muslims had a predominant presence at Shaheen Bagh. But, then, Muslims had a strong presence during the freedom struggle too. They were the ones who did not collaborate with the British right from the word go because they knew the British could not have evicted them from power without local support. Take the case of the cellular jails of Andamans.

Inscribed on its walls are the names of some of those prisoners who died in the jail and became martyrs. Among them one will find many Muslim names. Yet, one room in the jail has been converted into a memorial for VD Savarkar who stayed there and wrote mercy petition after mercy petition to the British. He promised the rulers that he would be loyal to them if he was released. Needless to say, he proved true to his word.

Indian Muslims had an opportunity to migrate to Pakistan. Most of them preferred to remain in India because it was the land of their birth. Recently, I met a person in the Muslim-majority Mewat area of Haryana. His family had migrated to Pakistan but within days of reaching there, they returned to India. Incidentally, Mewat registered the least migration to Pakistan. 

To return to Shaheen Bagh, it arose as a spontaneous reaction to the quick enactment of the CAA. Some mothers came out on the street and sat there in protest. Initially, vehicles were allowed to pass by but as days passed, vehicular traffic was stopped on the road. Of course, it brought inconvenience to ordinary people.

Our home worker who comes from the area told me that she had to spend Rs 100 a day by way of metro and rickshaw fares. Otherwise, the bus journey cost her only Rs 20. She was paying a heavy price for Shaheen Bagh but she also realised that the agitation was spearheaded by women who rose to the occasion like the 80,000 or so people who perished in the archipelago called the Andaman and Nicobar Islands during the freedom struggle.

The BJP wanted Kejriwal to take the initiative to remove the protestors at Shaheen Bagh so that he earned the Muslim wrath. Delhi is the only state where the government does not control law and order and land, both of which vests with the Centre. If Amit Shah refrained from removing them, it was because of the fear that use of force would adversely affect the party’s fortunes in the election.

In the last elections, the BJP projected itself as a party interested in the welfare of Muslim women. The enactment of the Triple Talaq Act was touted as a pro-Muslim initiative whereas the fact is that the Supreme Court had pronounced such divorces illegal and the Act was, therefore, infructuous. Not a single Muslim man has so far been punished under this Act!

Small wonder that Kejriwal said that Shah had the Delhi Police under him and he could use the force to clear the road at Shaheen Bagh. No, it did not want to take action for it would deprive the party of a weapon it considered as the ultimate in Delhi. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned in Delhi, he had nothing else to say other than Shaheen Bagh. The attitude of the police was evident when a large contingent of people remained a mute witness to a youth, now described as a juvenile, pointing his pistol at the protestors at Jamia and injuring a student.

The whole world watched the video of the man who dared to attack the protestors in this manner. Imagine how the police would have behaved if he had, by any chance, sported a skull cap or a beard. 

In Karnataka, a school is being taken to task for allowing the students to use an art form to protest against the CAA. When in the same state, an RSS-run school organised a mock demolition of the Babri Masjid as part of its anniversary celebrations, the chief guest was none other than Puducherry governor and former BJP nominee for the Chief Ministership of Delhi, Kiran Bedi.

This is how laws are applied differently in India now. That is why a Union minister had the temerity to tell a BJP rally that the protesters needed to be shot. I do not know why a hullabaloo was created over Anurag Thakur’s statement when worse things are said by Adityanath. Take the case of a man called Hegde, a Karnataka MP, describing the whole freedom struggle as a drama enacted by Gandhi with the connivance of the British.

Even when he was forced to retract his statement, he tried to make fun of Gandhi. Let there be no misunderstanding, the father of the nation was a hated figure for the RSS. If the old issues of its mouthpieces like the Organiser and the Panchjanya are read, one would realise how much it hated him. Today, Gandhi is not just an Indian leader. He is respected the world over for how he sought to resist evil.

It is because of this fact that the BJP government is forced to pay obeisance to Gandhi, who stood for peace, communal amity and justice. Yet, Modi found only one virtue in him that he took a bucket to clean the toilet. 

In Modified India, Gandhi has become a symbol of cleanliness, though he sacrificed his life for forcing the government to pay Pakistan what was its due under the vivisection plan, mooted first by the man who wrote the book titled Hindutva, long before Mohammed Ali Jinnah began articulating the demand for a separate state.

While the BJP described Shaheen Bagh as harbouring the thukde-thukde gangs, I found on a visit on the Republic Day that those who sat there were simple women wielding nothing but the national flag. Some of them had their babies in their lap. On the stage, I found a young man giving a fiery speech. I listened to him. He often quoted the Constitution to argue that all its ideals were threatened by the CAA and Amit Shah’s threat to introduce the NRC all over the country.

The pride of place on the backdrop of the stage went to Dr BR Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution. What’s more, there were people belonging to all communities there. Someone was found distributing food and food consisted of just banana. There was no trace of any biryani. Despite claims to the contrary, I found the protestors one of the most peaceful. If there was any aggression, it was in their words for they wanted only the Constitution to be protected. The did not even use the M-word.

Kejriwal had a point when he reminded the voters that the BJP leaders spoke only about Pakistan, Shaheen Bagh and Muslims while they kept mum on the party’s promise to regularise illegal colonies in the state. They also did not say a word about how demonetisation had turned the economy world-class and how Modi’s GST and other reforms were doing wonders to the country where every unemployed person was getting multiple job offers and how the whole world was respecting India for what it did to Kashmir.

One even wondered what they would have done if Pakistan was not there and Shaheen Bagh had not arisen. Modi mentioned in his first election speech Jamia, Aligarh and Shaheen Bagh but he did not mention the protests that erupted at thousands of Shaheen Baghs all over the country. He did not mention the greatest protest against the CAA that Kerala witnessed.

The ultimate weapon Modi used was to announce the setting up of a Trust to build the Ram temple at Ayodhya a day before the campaign was to conclude. He knew that the office he held gave immunity from actions under the rules that prevent big announcements during the time of elections. He also did another thing. 

For the first time, he told Parliament that no Indian citizen would be affected by the CAA. Credibility is of the essence in public life. Alas, that is what Modi lacks particularly when he has only Pakistan, Shaheen Bagh and infiltrators to talk about, day in and day out.

( ajphilip@gmail.com)

(Published on 10th February 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 07)