Shaheen Bagh, again

by January 29, 2020 0 comments

The BJP is weaponising protests to fan hypernationalism in the hope of diluting AAP’s record of performance

So far, the women-led protest at Shaheen Bagh against the Government’s citizenship and identity policies has been an example of civil society’s spontaneous combustion. But now its sincerity of purpose has lost out to political weaponisation. And days before the Delhi Assembly elections, Shaheen Bagh has been swiftly turned into a test case of nationalism from being an anti-establishment forum, becoming a simplistic referendum on whether minority intrusion can disrupt a majority lives — in this case blockade-hit Delhiites. Or whether it is a mini-Pakistan that needs to be surgically cut out from the heart of the city. The BJP, which has clearly nothing to show for governance compared to that of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), has little ammunition to engage its opponent in a duel. So in a predictable play, it is fanning popular sentiments in the last leg by claiming victimhood of a Hindu way of life by liberal thought. Even if it means deploying one of its crudest MPs to brand all protesters as public enemies, who would be threatening the city with a Gothamesque run as “rapists and killers.” In the process, it is trying to run down the clinical agenda-driven campaign of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who has walked the talk on livelihood issues of water, education, health and electricity. Not only that, the BJP is trying to force him into taking a stand on the polarised debate, a trap Kejriwal has meticulously avoided by not talking about politics at all. In fact, he has experimented with the idea of an apolitical public life, asking even Congress and BJP loyalists to vote for him if they want a better city. With no opponent to justify its brand of politics, the BJP has lionised Shaheen Bagh to push AAP into a corner and compel Kejriwal into making that one remark that would help it divide the citizenry and swing an emotional tide. The BJP knows that unlike it, AAP would require the 13 per cent Muslim vote. But Kejriwal has been diplomatic about not overtly doing anything which could be interpreted as minority appeasement. Even when deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia recently said he would “stand with the protesters”, Kejriwal remained non-committal, saying that people have a right to protest but not at the cost of other people. He even reiterated that AAP’s position against citizenship policies was well-documented and people knew about it. Now BJP’s master strategist Amit Shah is trying to reel him in to a contest on his terms, beginning with purely civic issues, like the traffic mess that citizens have had to put up with over the last 44 days because of protests and sit-ins. He has been releasing videos that “expose” the chinks in AAP’s armour, be it of poor wi-fi or condition of Government schools. Kejriwal has rebutted these, showing how BJP leaders made a video of non-functional schools. And it is this emphasis that Kejriwal is using to hold the BJP to account on its much vaunted claim of sabka vikas. In fact, AAP has the BJP in a bind by refusing to reduce Delhi as a microcosm for the rest of India but magnify it as a city-state circumscribed by its own specifics and a model of governance.

The BJP, which has been out of power in the city for 20 long years, can hardly claim ownership of the citizens’ charter of demands. But Delhiites have reposed faith in it during the Lok Sabha elections and the party is hoping to capitalise on that voteshare surge, particularly among heartland communities. So it is on Shaheen Bagh that Shah is pitching himself to be on stronger ground, deliberately aggravating it with party leaders’ grossly irresponsible and communal remarks on protesters. Kejriwal has so far held himself well against such provocation. In fact, he is continuously reminding Shah that law and order is a subject of the Home Ministry, which the latter heads, and to that extent, he should settle Shaheen Bagh by clearing it in a day and arrest those he thinks are engaged in sedition. He has even claimed the Government was using the protesters as a ruse to consolidate all the anti-AAP and Congress votes and get ahead on percentages. Question is whether Kejriwal can afford to remain ambiguous given the very strident grilling by Shah on Shaheen Bagh and appear as a pragmatist or an escapist. The BJP is hoping this will polarise voters and if it indeed does dominate the discourse in the last leg, the cascading effect could be the swell it needs. Issues after all work from constituency to constituency. But then AAP has a solid legacy as a deliverer of promises. And the Delhiite is a demanding voter.

(Courtesy: The Pioneer)

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