Delhi Polls: Shaheen Bagh survives to fight another day

Delhi Election Result 2020: Shaheen Bagh survives to fight another day

Although Delhi verdict does not show that symbolism of Shaheen Bagh has triumphed, the protest is a sign of a reasoned nationalist position among Muslims 

Women and children hold placards during a silent protest against CAA and NRC at Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. (PTI Photo)

As rising prejudice towards Muslims pierced through India, first at the head of the Ram Janambhoomi Movement and later hauled by the multi-headed idea of cultural nationalism, many members of the intelligentsia, including this writer, still adhering to the idea of an inclusive and secular India, often asserted that not even a solitary Indian Muslim should ever feel that their forefathers had made a wrong choice in 1947 -- that they too should have emigrated to Pakistan leaving behind the nation of their birth.

Protestors of Shaheen Bagh, and its replications in numerous cities, towns and hamlets, have shown the assumption to be wrong. They have shown that ordinary Muslims will never rue growing up in the 'wrong' country. Instead, when the 'water rose over the head', they will emphatically proclaim that 'this' is their country too and show the Constitution and the nation's laws to those targeting them. That is why since mid-December there have been no apologies at the significantly Muslim character of protestors and Shaheen Bagh or its mirror images in other parts of the country. 

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Audaciously it has been communicated they too have the right to protest if any government action impinges on their rights and privileges. The argument may not have been formally made, but it has been implicit: If Jats, Patels or any other caste-based groups are entitled to agitate on community matters and seek redressal, could Muslims be denied the privilege? Furthermore, was it wrong for people of other communities, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians, etc., to turn out in solidarity and against a regime, which consistently undermined the Republic?

Even in normal times in a polarised country, a predominantly Muslim protest at a place like Shaheen Bagh is certain to become the basis of political divide. In election time, this hitherto little-known locality became an internationally-recognised settlement, not due to what it was 'achieving' but for what it symbolised and the amount of hate it generated from the regime. 

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From when Hindu nationalistic organisation began the march to acquiring space on the political centre stage, 'hate symbols' were always necessary. It started with the Babri Masjid, for long depicted as the representation of Hindu shame or subjugation and Muslim oppression.

Shaheen Bagh was projected by BJP leaders, Amit Shah downward, as evidence that Muslims were preventing the march of a resurgent nation and those lining up with them were members of a Fifth Column owing allegiance to enemies of the nation. BJP wanted to polarise Delhi’s electorate on lines of "do you want more Shaheen Bagh", but the Aam Aadmi Party refused to take the bait. Although he made a statement against the tearing hurry with which the government secured the passage of the Citizens (Amendment) Act, Arvind Kejriwal, reiterated whenever efforts were made to pin him on the issue, that it was a "national issue" and not relevant to state polls.

Muslims for once were not represented by any self-projected leader and looked at their larger objective, not for someone to come and stand in solidarity and pay lip-service. As the verdict from Okhla constituency shows -- Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Nagar are part of this constituency -- the people voted almost en masse for the AAP candidate Amanatullah Khan ensuring he polled more than 80 per cent of the votes cast.

The people of Shaheen Bagh know that the rest of Delhi did not buy the BJP's symbolism. Yet, they will also be aware that this victory is no endorsement of their position and rejection of the politics that brewed and poured out the deadly cocktail of CAA and NCR. Shaheen Bagh is a symbol of new maturity among Muslims who realised that instead of responding to religion-based issues, be it triple talaq or the Supreme Court's verdict on the Ayodhya dispute, it is tactically prudent to pick issues that pertain not just to them, but to other communities too. Shaheen Bagh has been the symbol of a reasoned nationalist position among Muslims and has the potential to fashion a new understanding of the community's aspirations among the majority.

(Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is a Delhi-based journalist and author. His latest book is RSS: Icons Of The Indian Right. He has also written Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times (2013))   

 The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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