On 25th February 2020 morning, after perhaps reading the morning papers, someone very close to me rang up. As soon as I said “hello” she said “What is happening in Delhi?” and started crying unconsolably. I had not seen the papers and was getting ready to leave for a day long workshop. So, my natural response was: “What happened?” She informed me that Hindu-Muslim riots have erupted, three Muslims are killed, Muslim houses are being attacked. (After a fair bit of investigation now I don’t think her picture of the situation was entirely correct, but that is another matter, and irrelevant here.) I tried to console her; it was not an easy task. One does not even know what could be said over the phone to console someone sensitive, cares for the harmony and people of the country in such a situation.
This little incident started a chain of thoughts in my mind. There are many people in India who supports CAA. Consider protests against CAA as mistaken; however, also support the right to protest of those who consider CAA unjust or against secularism. At the same time, they think, right to protest does not include right to block public thorough fares for months on end. This last is nothing but holding the general public at ransom, I even wonder if such an act qualifies as non-violent. But if they block the roads, it is the job of the police to remove them, peacefully as far as possible, but failing that by force if need be. This is because no one can hold the people at ransom. On the other hand, no politician or private individuals or group of individuals has the right to take law into their own hands, and clear the roads by force.
Someone having above mentioned views when given to understand by the one-sided media that a group of people started riots and targeted minority community, is naturally pained, feels that something deep-down is breaking; something precious being destroyed. They want to give full right to all opinions to be expressed, want peaceful solutions to all problems, and abhor violence and atrocities on anyone. What is the place for such people in present day India? Are they only to cry silently in their homes or can they play a more significant role?
They cannot align with or support the BJP and the government. Supporting CAA is not the same thing as condoning BJP leaders’ poisonous statements, and violence by BJP supporters; even when the anti-CAA protesters go violent often, and are belligerent always. Also, the government has proved itself particularly incapable in handling the propaganda war directly against CAA, and indirectly against the constitutional functioning of the country. In spite of the law being passed in the parliament, in spite of it having the support of sound logic, in spite of it being secular, in spite of it being completely in line with the Indian constitution and promises of the Indian state to minorities of our Islamic neighbours. It has nothing at all against Indian Muslims. And still the government is on the backfoot, could not convince people, could not convince international commentators who know next to nothing of India, and could not expose the deliberate mischief makers in India. It is nothing but phenomenal incompetence on the part of the government. This government is also known to be soft on mob violence. Many of its leaders express hatred and violence for Muslims. Therefore, the kind of people who are pained at violence and all kinds of untruth flying in the air can not belong to the BJP and its supporters.
Another loud and belligerent section of Indians form the most tenacious opposers of CAA. The true purpose, feelings and schemes of this group have already come on the surface. In the very initial days during Jamia protests the most inspiring ‘sheros’, as Barkha Dutt called them, made it clear that their true purpose had nothing to do with secularism or democracy. Their slogan is definitely “Allah hu Akbar” and their purpose is undoubtedly to achieve a world which confirms with “la illah ila allah”. Not to leave any doubts they told the world that their inspiration are likes of Ali Musaliar; the man who led the Mopla riots in which thousands of Hindus were given the enlightening and secular choice of “Islam or death”.
Mr. Sharjeel Imam elaborated and explained the problem, the purpose and the strategy even more clearly. It will be useful to spend some time on Mr. Imam’s exhortations to anti-CAA protesters in Aligarh, who repeatedly clapped and raise the cry of “Allah hu Akbar” at appropriate occasion. Mr. Imam explains his strategy: “… एक और चीज है जो हम दिल्ली में कोशिश करेंगे, … अगर हम स्कॉलर हैं तो इतना तो कर सकते हैं कि एक गैर-मुस्लिम अपने साथ ला सकें, … अगर हम 500 स्कोलर्स की टीम दिल्ली में बनालें मुसलमान, तो 500 हिन्दू हमारे साथ आएंगे ….तो हमारी ज़िम्मेदारी यह है दिल्ली में कि हम 500 मुसलमान 500 हिन्दू सड़कों पर खड़ा करदें अपनी शर्तों पर अपने कॉज़ के लिए, …. हमारी कोशिश यह रही है दिल्ली में कि हम एक ऐसी भीड़ को बना पाएँ जिसमें गैर-मुस्लिम हमारे साथ नारा-ये-तकबीर लगाएँ, वो हमारी शर्तों पर खड़े हों हमारे साथ…” What is important to understand in this is: that this “bhiid” should stand with them on their conditions, for their cause and should shout “Allah ho Akbar”. The purpose or the objective is not Indian constitution, not democracy, not secularism; as we will see shortly. Then what is the purpose? It has layers, let’s have a look.
“ … अगर पाँच लाख लोग हमारे पास हों ओरगनाइज्ड तो हम हिंदुस्तान और नॉर्थ-ईस्ट को परमनेंटली कट कर सकते हैं। … परमनेंटली नहीं तो कम से कम एक-आध महीने के लिए तो कट कर ही सकते हैं।” Many very intelligent Indians are busy explaining that he was not talking of severing north-east from India, he was only talking of road blockade. Listen to the whole video and decide for yourself. Some others organised a march in his support and raised slogans “शरजील इमाम जिंदाबाद. शरजील तुम संघर्ष करो हम तुम्हारे साथ हैं।” One wonders if they are with him in cutting north-east from India permanently as well. Yet others write articles arguing that even if one does not agree with Sharjeel, one should support his right to express his views. Sure, all Indians committed to freedom of speech should support his right to speak his mind. However, I am not sure if the open planning to dismember India is also covered under freedom of speech.
What are Mr. Imam’s problems and what are his goals? The man is quite clear about that. He talks of creating a group of Muslim scholars who are clear “ …कि हम हिंदुस्तान के निज़ाम और आईन से परेशान हैं। अगर ये क्लरिटी है तो ही हम आगे बढ़ सकते हैं, नहीं तो आगे नहीं बढ़ सकते।” The idea then is not to save the constitution (आईन), rather constitution is the problem. Secularism and democracy are the problems, equal rights are the problem for Mr. Imam. To him this is not a problem of CAA, this is a long fight. For what? For freedom of Muslims. According to him “मुसलमानों को आज़ादी नहीं मिली, मुसलमानों पर एक दुश्मन कौम मुसल्लत कर दी गई।” This ‘enemy kaum’, of course are the Hindus whom he wants to support their cause, on his own conditions and wants them to raise nara-e-takbir. Further down he says “जो नाशनलिज्म बोले वह हमारा दुश्मन है”. His animosity for Hindus reminds one the attitude of Muslim leaders from 1985 onwards.
Of course, there shall be a serious objection from many that Sharjeel Imam is not the representative of the anti-CAA protests, that together with Muslims there are right thinking Hindus, most of the secular, democratic and intelligent people, who are against CAA. Sharjeel does not even represent common Muslim’s views. All this may be true. What I want to point out is that a large section of the most tenacious opposers of CAA thinks like Mr. Imam. And also, that this thinking is not discouraged, not condemned, not criticised by the nice intelligent secular democratic people who oppose CAA. Because if they condemn it, they will be dubbed anti-Muslim and anti-secularism. Historians ignore that Sharjeel and Kerala Heroines are speaking the language used by Sir Syed, by Iqbal and by Jinnah.
Another most vocal, voluble section of Indian society is the so-called liberals. They do not find anything wrong in supporting likes of Sharjeel Imam, Ladeeda and Rashids on their conditions. Are busy defending them. Do not see the parallels, as mentioned above, with Syed, Iqbal and Jinnah in their language and arguments. Making the same mistake that Congress under Gandhi made: not seeing the difference between appeasement and agreement; not seeing the difference between safeguard and veto power. If one opposes these clearly Islamic supremacist forces, these so-called liberals declare him/her “the devil” in their righteous indignation. Anyone who supports CAA and opposes the anti-CAA protests becomes a devil to them. Becomes a begot. Becomes a fascist. They do not notice that calling these names to a peaceful proponent of dialogue, even with the most belligerent opponent, is bigotry, is fascism, is intolerance of the first order. And at the same time such righteous people preach freedom of speech, may be for themselves only! The core of these three sections of the population is hardened into bigotry; fringes are somewhat tolerant but ineffective.
For people like Sharjeel, and his ilk, this is not a protest to save the constitution or the democracy or the secularism. It is to declare Islamic supremacy, to tell India that determined Muslims can stop anything. And to retain the veto for Muslims in making laws in the country. The people genuinely concerned with secularism, constitution and democracy should have condemned these forces; they did not, they only supported and encouraged them. Sharjeel Imam is very clear in defining the problem. The fight is not against CAA; it is against the Indian constitution, Indian state and the “dushman kaum” Hindu. This protest is to force the government to take CAA back, to abandon the ideas of NPR and NRC. Thus, showing the Indian state and the “dushman kaum” that in spite of being a minority every law has to be approved by them first. The exact idea Muslim league worked with. The majority of Muslims does not think in this manner, and perhaps is not with Sharjeel Imams; but neither is that majority stopping or condemning them. The Muslims leaders like Waris Pathan and Owaisi rather seem to agree with the bigotry of like that is Sharjeel.
Why are CAA, NPR and NRC anathema to these people? The stock answer is: Look what happened in Assam? How many have to face untold miseries and are threatened by statelessness, by detention centres.
This is cherry picking. Assam problem was festering for a long time before the Assam accord was finalised. Demography was changing. Local representatives of some political parties were helping Bangladeshi illegal immigrants in acquiring ration cards and other documents. The NRC was not initiated even after the accord in 1985. It was delayed by 25 years. By whom? During this time an untold number of illegal migrants entered the country, tightening of the borders and fencing etc were always opposed by the same so-called liberals. Illegal immigrants were helped in settling and getting documents. Now no one actually knows how many illegal migrants are living in this country. A proper understanding of the problem and proper humanitarian solution of it requires information and data. That can be obtained by NPR and NRC. But those who were party to helping illegal entry and settling in the country are not prepared to face the reality. Thus, all out opposition to all attempts to clarify the situation. It is not fear of genuine Indian citizens being deprived of citizenship; it is the fear of discovering the extent of the problem and involvement of local leaders in it.
The criteria for NPR and NRC are not even finalised so far, and our learned professors are busy building slippery slope arguments, purely as a fear mongering trick. They tell you in advance how people will come to you, you may be marked as doubtful, how a vindictive government functionary can victimise you, and so on. Often these slippery slope arguments resemble the Gauls’ fear of the sky falling on their heads in the famous cartoon series Obelix and Asterix. The only difference being that the simpler Gauls needed no slippery slope argument for their unreasonable fear, which our more complicated professors have to constantly spin.
In this scenario and these groups dominating the discourse, what is place left for someone like the person I mentioned in the beginning of this article? Think of an Indian who wants harmonious and peaceful society; who wants equality, justice and freedom for all; who believes in equal rights for all; who believes in protection of all religious and cultural traditions. But does not concede veto power to any one; condemns all bigotry equally without distinction of majority and minority; rejects belligerence completely. None of the three major forces mentioned above have any space for such an Indian. I believed till recently that such fair thinking Indians form the majority population in this country, be they Hindus, Muslims, or any other religion. Now I am not so sure of this estimate. But I am convinced that unless such Indians guided by equality and justice come together and counter the three hardened intolerant forces mentioned above, we are heading for more turmoil. Two of these forces are clearly bigoted, the third one perhaps delusional and haughty. Think clearly, where do you belong? In one of the bigoted groups or the self-righteous haughty one or the silently crying one? If the last one; find more like you, talk with them honestly and get together. Or the place for you will vanish completely.
29th February 2020