Recently, Union Home Minister, Amit Shah announced that he is ready to discuss issues related to the anti CAA protesters with the anti CAA protesters. The focus instantly shifted to Shaheen Bagh where anti-CAA protesters have been blocking a road for the last two months.
Initially, the Shaheen Bagh protesters and the entire left-liberal ecosystem were very vocal about why the Modi government was not interacting with the protesters. But now that Amit Shah has made a categorical offer, the protesters at Shaheen Bagh are caught unprepared, perplexed and fidgety. The enthusiasm to meet and discuss the Citizenship Amendment Act with the Home Minister who was demonised in these protests over the same, now seems to have suddenly fizzled out.
As per the Union Home Ministry, no formal request had been made by the Shaheen Bagh protesters to meet Shah. However, a number of anti-CAA protesters decided to undertake a march towards the official residence of the Union Home Minister, something that could not be allowed because of the clear security threat it posed.
The Shaheen Bagh protesters have shied away from choosing a leader or a delegation of leaders who could meet Shah and discuss the Amendment legislation with him. One of the organisers, Ahmed Taseer, said, “We are ready to meet the home minister. But he should make it clear how many people he wants to meet.”
Shaheen Bagh protesters have sought to claim that lack of leaders the reason behind their inability to send an individual/ group of individuals to represent them before Home Minister Shah and discuss the CAA.
The fact that it should be difficult for the Shaheen Bagh protesters to find a leader who can represent them and bring forth their concerns with the Union Home Minister is rather unfathomable.
From the very start, it was amply clear that the Shaheen Bagh protests were not spontaneous or leaderless. The sheer amount of PR campaigning and money for distributing doles such as free meals that went into the protests make it clear that there are some people behind it, meticulously organising it but are perhaps not ready to show their face to the public which raises serious questions.
Initially, it was Sharjeel Imam, who became the face of the protests. But after his speech surfaced wherein he called for carving out the Northeast from the rest of India, he went into hiding. Sharjeel Imam had called for the ‘Muslim majority’ in the Chicken’s Neck or the Siliguri corridor to block the roads and the railway tracks so as to cut off India from its northeastern region. Later Imam was arrested for his seditious, anti-India remarks and therefore he is now out of the picture.
As part of its larger PR campaign, Shaheen Bagh protesters even managed to rope in political leaders- including those from AAP and Congress, and even some human rights activists at the protest site for guest appearances.
Okhla MLA and AAP leader Amanatullah Khan made regular appearances at Shaheen Bagh. Congress leaders Sashi Tharoor and Mani Shankar Aiyar too visited the protest site. Activist Yogendra Yadav also visited Shaheen Bagh and even lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan was spotted there.
Several artists, musicians have also made appearances in these well-organised protests. Now, why are none of these political leaders and activists coming out to represent the Shaheen Bagh protesters or at least find a way to ensure effective communication between the Union Home Minister and the protesters, if at all the Shaheen Bagh roadblock is a leaderless campaign?
The fact remains that Shaheen Bagh protests are very well-organised and probably much more heavily funded than any of us can imagine.
Recently, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) revealed that the anti-CAA protests including the one at Shaheen Bagh were being funded by the Popular Front of India (PFI) and AAP and Congress leaders were in touch with the PFI chief.
It is clear that there are insidious people- fundamentalist elements like the PFI who have orchestrated and managed the Shaheen Bagh roadblock. The protests, though faceless, are not leaderless.
Shaheen Bagh protest organisers are avoiding Shah’s offer because they do not want the real faces behind the Shaheen Bagh protests to come out in public. If an anti-India Islamist like Sharjeel Imam was one of the leaders who could come out in public, imagine who the rest of the leaders are who haven’t dared to come out in the open.
The manner in which Shaheen Bagh protest site wore a desolate look after the Delhi Assembly polls make it clear that while the ostensible object of the protests was some sort of a denouncement of the NRC and repeal of the CAA, the real goals were political.
Shaheen Bagh protests have outlived their purpose. The organisers want a graceful exit. But that is not happening due to Shah’s recent talks offer.
Meanwhile, what puts them in an even tighter spot is the fact that the Supreme Court has been pushing them to shift to another venue, expressing concern over how a public road has been kept blocked in the name of protests. The apex court has appointed three interlocutors led by senior Advocate, Sanjay Hegde to talk to the protesters regarding shift in protests venue.
The Shaheen Bagh protesters have insidious, fundamentalist elements leading them. They know that they would be demolished if they are sent to meet the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah.
Those who orchestrated the Shaheen Bagh protests want to leave with dignity. They are waiting for an opportunity where they can end with a bang, similar to the manner in which Jamia student-activists clashed with the police once after the Assembly polls and then fell silent.
But Amit Shah’s offer and Supreme Court’s insistence on shifting the venue has forced them to interact, putting them in a very tight position and giving literally no space to make an dignified exit in their own terms. Now that the ball is in their court, they have been caught unawares and desperate.