Linking Sharjeel With Shaheen Bagh Exposes BJP’s ‘Desperation’

What was Sharjeel’s ‘crime’ exactly? A traffic blockade? Such blockades in the past haven’t seen similar action.

4 min read
Image of Sharjeel Imam used for representational purposes.

It will be an understatement to say that the spontaneous and organic protests across the country against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) have left the Modi government stumped. After managing to get away with the Triple Talaq Act and abrogation of Article 370 without much of a fight, the domestic uprising against CAA and subsequent international criticism has come as a shock. Not only did the government not expect common folk to rise up against the discriminatory law, it also did not foresee the European Union and United Nations getting involved to this extent.

What the government desperately needs right now is a target — someone to demonise and blame for the upheaval against CAA — and that is proving to be a big challenge.

The protests that we are witnessing today have organically sprung up across the country and are being lead by common citizens who have no political affiliations. For a government that thrives on ‘otherising’ those who oppose it by using labels such as ‘tukde-tukde gang’, ‘urban naxals’, ‘presstitute’ and ‘Khan market gang’, it becomes very difficult to put up a defence with no one to attack.


Outcomes of a Potential ‘Modi vs Shaheen Bagh’ Face Off

Luckily for the government, there is a Shaheen Bagh today which has emerged as the Tiananmen Square of anti-CAA protests. So, when Amit Shah addresses election rallies in Delhi, he can tell his supporters to ‘press the lotus so hard that Shaheen Bagh disappears’. But who are Amit Shah and Modi facing-off with in Shaheen Bagh? They cannot digest or even admit the fact that a few hundred burqa-clad women are ruining their reputation abroad, and inspiring people across the country to rise up against this regime.

A powerful Modi cannot be seen as taking-on poor Muslim women, cradling infants in one arm and holding the tri-colour in the other.

There are two possible outcomes that a ‘Modi vs Shaheen Bagh’ face-off can result in. First, it could elevate the position of Muslim women given that they are now being seen as ‘worthy’ opponents by Modi and his Hindutva brigade, or it could further underline the misogynistic tendencies of this government. Both of these outcomes are not desirable for the BJP government. This is why Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is trying to coax the men of Shaheen Bagh to participate in the protest by accusing them of sending their women out to fight while they relax in their ‘razai’.

Why the Fuss Over a Traffic Blockade by Sharjeel?

Against this back-drop, the government has found an easy scapegoat in Sharjeel Imam, a PhD scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University. Here is it important to note that Sharjeel was offered on a platter to the government by Arnab Goswami’s nationalist Republic TV, which carried out a ‘sting operation’ on some volunteers at Shaheen Bagh. The mega ‘expose’ didn’t expose anything except that Republic TV’s nationalist reporters were able to identify Sharjeel as ‘someone who had all the makings of an anti-national mastermind’ — a young Muslim scholar with a PhD in Modern Indian History from the ‘tukde-tukde’ university.

Sharjeel is today in police custody and faces sedition and UAPA charges in five states. His ‘crime’: a speech that he purportedly gave to a group of students at Aligarh Muslim University, asking them to block roads leading to Assam. In his speech, he seemed to suggest that if Assam is ‘cut-off’, then the government will be forced to focus on protests being staged by ordinary Muslims across the country.

That speech was reportedly made on 16 January. A fortnight later, there are no signs of any roads to Assam being blocked, but Sharjeel has emerged as the ‘mastermind’ of a ‘conspiracy’ to — wait for it — block traffic.

Never mind that traffic blockades are a very common form of protest in India — Gujjars from Rajasthan who demanded reservation, blocked road and rail traffic on the Delhi-Mumbai highway for several months in 2008 and again in 2011. Similarly, Hindus in Jammu blocked the Jammu-Srinagar highway for two months over a land dispute in 2008.


BJP Discourse Around Sharjeel

If hypothetically one agrees with the government that Sharjeel Imam was one of the few people who kickstarted the protest at Shaheen Bagh, then what about the 23 other protests taking place in Delhi, and numerous others across the country?

The entire BJP discourse around Sharjeel also tries to whitewash the fact that he actually tried to call off the protest on 2 January and was asked to leave by the women who did not want to end their stir. Sharjeel’s arrest is nothing but a mockery of everything that our Constitution stands for. Attempts to link him to Shaheen Bagh are misplaced, and designed to destabilise and discredit the protest.

(Seemi Pasha is a journalist, and former Senior Executive Editor at Tiranga TV. She wont the Red Ink award for politics in 2016. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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