Will the road to Delhi pass through Shaheen Bagh?

Till a few weeks back, Shaheen Bagh protestors were like a thorn in the flesh of Modi’s BJP and then, BJP brought on its ‘spinner’ to bowl googlies to a baffled Kejriwal.

Supreme Court, Shaheen Bagh, Anti-CAA Protests, Citizenship law, Citizenship Amendment Act, interlocutors, Shaheen Bagh protests
Protesters, mostly women have been staging a sit-in at Delhi's Shaheen Bagh for almost two months against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Photo: PTI

There’s something to be admired about Modi’s BJP – it is the party’s dynamism, this constant burst of youth-like energy and a sense of discipline, all of which flows seamlessly in the organisational machinery of the party and keeps the rank and file in continuous attention motion.

Age is not an excuse, neither is experience allowed to be worn as a crown. What matters, is how well one can execute an order – like trained commandoes. This ability has given the BJP a massive advantage over other slothful players, like Congress. The party can turn even adversarial situations to their advantage.

Till a few weeks back, Shaheen Bagh protestors were like a thorn in the flesh of Modi’s BJP – a symbol of defiance and audacity that deserved to be demolished at all costs. On one end, the BJP had unrelenting protests to deal with, and on the other, they had the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which appeared to be swiftly marching towards a second term. Most surveys suggested this outcome.

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AAP was merrily going about the town reminding people how much Delhi has benefitted from AAP’s water and electricity subsidies. BJP had no answers. They had been out of power in Delhi for 21 years and had nothing to show.

Also Read: Armed man threatens Shaheen Bagh protesters to end agitation, overpowered

Meanwhile, AAP’s fast and bouncy pitch had the BJP ducking for cover. And then, like under the cover of night, BJP’s army-ants dug up the pitch to make it unplayable for AAP.

On Republic Day morning, BJP brought on its ‘spinner’ to bowl googlies to a baffled Kejriwal. “Your vote to BJP candidate will make Delhi and the country safe and prevent thousands of incidents like Shaheen Bagh. When you press the button on February 8th, do so with such anger that its current is felt at Shaheen Bagh,” said Amit Shah, exhorting voters to help BJP make a Delhi where “there is no Shaheen Bagh”.

Shah’s statement was the signal to other leaders. Soon, Union Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad gave a statement wherein he said, “Lakhs of people are distressed because they cannot go to office, shops are shut and children are not able to go to school due to road being blocked by the protesters.” He asked, why Kejriwal and Sisodia are not listening to the silent voices of those in distress because of the road blockade.

It’s a smart ploy. BJP had tried using CAA-NRC to swing votes, but it’s a national issue and was not striking a chord with the people of Delhi. But ‘Shaheen Bagh’ is a local issue. The mention of that resilient Delhi locality does not only spell CAA-NRC. For a Delhiite, it spells prolonged closure of an important arterial road connecting Delhi with Noida, which has resulted in daily traffic jams on alternate routes because of traffic diversions.

Delhi CM and the top leadership of AAP had stayed away from Shaheen Bagh deliberately, because of the fear of being branded a ‘Muslim appeasing party’ ‘like Congress’. The Kejriwal of Anna Hazare days may have gone on a hunger strike in Shaheen Bagh, and even spent nights at the protest site to express solidarity with people. However, Kejriwal of 2020 is a different person. He is more of a politician than an activist.

But now, Kejriwal and his team had been caught plumb before wicket by the BJP.

Also Read: Shaheen Bagh protesters will rape, kill Delhi women if not stopped: BJP MP

West Delhi BJP MP Parvesh Verma claimed the blockade will be removed with one hour of BJP coming to power in Delhi. It’s a stupid offer though, but good for rhetoric.

The Delhi CM was forced to respond. He said it is the BJP which does not want to open the Shaheen Bagh stretch because it wants to do “dirty politics” over it.

“Law and order in the national capital entirely lies with the Centre and if they are saying that they need permission from me, I am giving them permission, open the road in one hour.”

Politically speaking, there were few options Kejriwal had. A line in support of Shaheen Bagh and he would be torn to pieces by BJP’s attack dogs, branded a Pakistani and an agent of ‘tukde-tukde gang’. A statement against Shaheen Bagh and he would risk losing 14% Muslim vote bank. He tried to balance things as far as he could. “School children are being inconvenienced. Passing of ambulances is an issue. The journey that used to be 40-minutes-long is now taking 2-3 hours. I have said this a number of times that everyone has a right to democratically protest but that protest should not hassle people.”

Traffic inconveniences caused by Shaheen Bagh was only a part of BJP’s larger strategy, which is polarisation of the voters on Hindu-Muslim lines. There is an old Urdu proverb, which fits the BJP well in this context – Mullah Ki Daud Masjid Tak (the priest will not go any farther than the masjid). At an election rally, Union Minister of State for Finance, Anurag Thakur urged the crowds to complete his slogan when he chanted, “Desh Ke Gaddaron Ko…”, to which the crowds shouted back, “…Goli Maaro S***on Ko” (Shoot down the traitors who betray the country). His act was caught on camera, and he was unrepentant when confronted.

Fear mongering, another weapon used extensively by the BJP during elections has been deployed in Delhi as well. Pravesh Verma said, “Lakhs of people gather there (Shaheen Bagh). People of Delhi will have to think and take a decision. They will enter your houses, rape your sisters and daughters, kill them. There’s time today, Modi ji and Amit Shah won’t come to save you tomorrow.”

The BJP has made its intentions absolutely clear. The party is planning to bring 200 of its sitting MPs to Delhi for the last week of campaigning. This is an unprecedented display of political star power.

Also Read: Shah dares Kejriwal to visit Shaheen Bagh, says Delhi residents will decide rest

The wisdom or futility of these manoeuvres will only be clear on February 11th, the day of counting. Shaheen Bagh has become a political untouchable. Neither AAP, nor Congress have shown enough courage to speak openly in favour of the women protestors of that area. Even Muslim leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi were conspicuous by their absence from the Shaheen Bagh discourse. The question is not whether the protestors will stay, but for how long. Their increasing public and political isolation is not going to make things any easier for them. A lot depends on the wisdom of the people of Delhi.

To the protesters, who have been singing Faiz’s revolutionary poem, Hum Dekhenge, and braving horrible abuses and threats from the ruling dispensation, to the courageous mothers and sisters who have been defiantly holding the torch of freedom and democracy, it’s time to sing another famous poem, by Rabindranath Tagore – Jodi Tor Dak Shune Keu Na Ashe, Tobe Ekla Cholo Re (If there is no one responding to your call, then go on all alone).

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