What Does AAP Gain by Calling Shaheen Bagh ‘BJP’s Brainchild’?
Saurabh Bhardwaj’s allegations appear to be part of AAP’s strategy to expand by winning over disgruntled BJP voters
The Aam Aadmi Party has made a surprising allegation - it has said that protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act at Delhi's Shaheen Bagh were the "brainchild of the BJP".
The AAP made this allegation at a press conference addressed by Greater Kailash MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj on Monday 17 August. There are two questions that need to be addressed:
- Are the allegations true?
- Why is AAP making these charges?
But first, let’s look at what AAP MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj alleged during his press conference.
What Saurabh Bhardwaj Said
Here are some key quotes from Bhardwaj’s press conference:
- “The entire election campaign of BJP was based on Shaheen Bagh, BJP is the only party which benefited from Shaheen Bagh. It was a well thought out script.”
- “Many people joined this protest with the hope that this protest is pro-democracy. But they also did not understand that this Shaheen Bagh protest is just a brainchild and a script of the Bharatiya Janata Party.”
- “Union Home Minister Amit Shah said ‘when you press Lotus symbol the current will go to Shaheen Bagh, it means there is a connection. That connection got proven.”
- “Delhi Police does not allow any protest for more than three hours, but it allowed Shaheen Bagh protest for 101 days.”
- “Some key people associated with the Shaheen Bagh protest joined the BJP in the presence of the senior leadership....this shows that the two were linked”
- “We studied the Shaheen Bagh protest closely. We noted that suddenly some strange people came there and raised anti-national slogans, talked about dividing India, tried to create a riot like situation or asked everyone to block more roads. The Delhi police did not take any action against these people.”
- “I want to tell the BJP supporters of Delhi that the people against whom you protested, they were the people of Bharatiya Janata Party itself,
Are the Allegations True?
There are three parts to AAP's allegations.
- BJP centered its entire campaign in the Delhi Assembly elections around Shaheen Bagh.
- The protests were themselves the "brainchild" of the BJP.
- The BJP was the only party that gained due to the Shaheen Bagh protests.
Let’s look at these one by one.
Did BJP focus its campaign around Shaheen Bagh?
The allegation is mostly correct.
- It may be remembered that Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Shaheen Bagh an "experiment" during his rally in Seelampur.
- Union Home Minister Amit Shah urged voters to press the button in such a way "that the current is felt in Shaheen Bagh".
- BJP MP from West Delhi Pravesh Verma tried to scare voters by saying that "people of Shaheen Bagh will enter your homes and rape your women".
Is there proof that Shaheen Bagh protests were BJP’s brainchild?
This allegation made by Bharadwaj is unsubstantiated.
- So far, there is no proof that any of the organisers of the Shaheen Bagh protests, have joined the BJP.
- There’s nothing in the public domain that suggests that Shahzad Ali, who recently joined BJP, was one of the organisers of the Shaheen Bagh protest. Apparently, he is a resident of Jasola village and not Shaheen Bagh.
- Even if Shahzad was one of the organisers, it still doesn’t make the protests the brainchild of the BJP. This argument can be turned against AAP itself as Kiran Bedi joining BJP would make the India Against Corruption protests BJP’s brainchild. The same goes for former AAP minister Kapil Mishra joining BJP.
- In its charge sheets on the Northeast Delhi communal violence, the Delhi Police has claimed that the anti-CAA protests, especially Shaheen Bagh, were themselves a conspiracy to carry out communal violence. Why would the police be booking protest organisers if the protesters were backed by the government and police, as AAP alleges?
- Bhardwaj also makes a false allegation by saying that the “protests wound up on 24 March as BJP’s ends were achieved”. The protesters actually withdrew due to the spread of COVID-19.
- Also, there is no proof of Bhardwaj’s claims that anti-national slogans or slogans to divide India were given at Shaheen Bagh.
Was BJP the only party to gain due to Shaheen Bagh protests?
This is mostly true.
- It is true that BJP did make some gains among Hindu voters due to the protests. According to Lokniti-CSDS’ pre-poll survey, BJP had a three percentage point lead over AAP among “Hindu voters who had heard of the Shaheen Bagh protests”.
- On the other hand, AAP had a 15 percentage point lead among Hindu voters who had not heard of the protests.
But there are certain caveats:
- Lokniti-CSDS surveyors also point out that the BJP’s lead among the above section could also be due to the fact that BJP generally does better among sections with greater access to media and social media.
- According to the Lokniti-CSDS survey, AAP got 83 percent of the Muslim votes, up six percentage points from 2015. It is possible that the anti-CAA protests could have pushed Muslims to vote for AAP to defeat BJP.
- This was particularly helpful to AAP in seats like Seelampur, Mustafabad and Okhla where nearly one-sided voting from Muslims pushed AAP to victory.
- Okhla is an interesting case as AAP candidate Amanatullah Khan polled nearly 70 percent of the votes in a seat where Muslims are around 50 percent. This indicates that many Hindus may also have voted for him, raising questions over the polarisation narrative.
Why is AAP Making These Allegations?
The Quint had reported earlier that in its expansion plans, AAP aims at winning over disgruntled BJP voters. Bhardwaj's allegations appear to be part of the same strategy.
- In the first part of his press conference, his entire emphasis was on showing how the BJP was the only party which gained out of the Shaheen Bagh protests and he tells BJP voters that they have been taken for a ride.
- “I want to tell the BJP supporters of Delhi that the people against whom you protested, were BJP’s people,” he said, indicating his target audience.
- The choice of deploying Bharadwaj to make these allegations is also not coincidental. Bharadwaj has been one of the faces that AAP has been deploying to woo the "disgruntled BJP voters" section. He led the AAP's protests slamming the BJP government on Chinese incursions. Also with his organisation of Sunderkand Paath in his constituency, he is an important face for AAP’s “soft Hindu” card.
- AAP has an unstable base even in Delhi. It got less than 20 percent votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It's calculation seems to be that if it has to expand, it needs to win over BJP’s Hindu voters.
- Regarding Muslim voters, the AAP’s sense is that they would naturally consolidate behind it if it becomes the main anti-BJP force in a particular seat.
While AAP may have its calculations behind the allegations, it would put Delhi’s Muslims in a dilemma. There’s doubt that the anti-CAA protests had widespread support among Muslims, so will AAP’s allegations change their view of the party?
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