What has made the protesters restless is the Central government’s refusal to give in to pressure and promise the roll-back of CAA.
NEW DELHI: A section of protesters at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, who have been sitting on protest demanding the rollback of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), are now hoping for a “respectable face saver” that will enable them to put an end to their 42-day-old stir. The stir has resulted in a major connector between Delhi and the satellite city of Noida getting blocked and is causing immense hardship to local residents and commuters for over a month. But with the Central government in no mood to give in to the pressure and roll back CAA, the protesters have started feeling restless. Parliament has enacted the CAA and it has been published in the official Gazette. Even the Supreme Court has not heard the case, although it has asked the Centre to file a comprehensive response by 22 February. In this situation, dragging on the issue for such a long period will be quite difficult, admit these protesters.
However, notwithstanding the pressure from a section of protesters, the sit-in is likely to continue for a few more days. Although no political party is leading the protest openly, sources say that it suits all the three major political parties, AAP, BJP and Congress, as a polarizing factor ahead of the Assembly elections in Delhi. Therefore, no sincere attempt is being made from their side to end the deadlock. Sources say that the protest is unlikely to end before the Delhi Assembly elections of 8 February.
What has added to the restlessness of the protesters is the Central government’s lack of interest in engaging in a dialogue with them, although Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal had a meeting with them earlier this week in an attempt to end the deadlock. The protesters, according to sources, want some senior BJP leader or minister to come to the protest site and talk to them and resolve the deadlock, rather than they going to meet the government representatives. A BJP source, however, said so far no one from the organisers has approached any senior party leader or government functionary for a dialogue.
When this reporter visited the protest site at Shaheen Bagh on Friday, repeated announcements were being made by the organisers not to lose patience and face the challenge of continuing with the dharna until at least the Supreme Court hears the matter in the last week of February.
Sources said some attempts were made by some interlocutors to organise an appeal from a senior Central minister to the Shaheen Bagh protesters so that the protest could be called off. However, this could not be officially verified. There were also suggestions that a delegation of protesters should be allowed to meet either Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Home Minister Amit Shah. However, so far this too has not materialised.
When asked for a comment on the move to end the dharna, the Twitter handle “Shaheen Bag Official” responded by saying “that information doesn’t stand true”.
The Sunday Guardian further asked: “Whether some of your team members want to get the issue resolved for which you would like intervention of the Prime Minister or the Home Minister? Have you made any effort to meet them to get the issue resolved? Or have you made any kind of communication with the PMO or the Home Ministry?”
However, the protest organisers did not answer these questions and instead asked to “cite source of your information”. This reporter refused to divulge the information.
The Twitter handle “Shaheen Bagh Official” says that the protest will continue. A recent tweet by it reads:
- We still have speakers on the state which is lit.
- The langar tent is lit.
- The media continues to be our voice.
- The women still sit under the historic tent.
The protest goes on.”
There is also pressure from the public who use the road where the protesters are sitting. The road is a crucial link between Kalindi Kunj (Delhi) and Noida and because it is blocked, lakhs of vehicles are being forced to take other routes, thus causing huge traffic jams that are spilling on to different routes in both Noida and South Delhi. In fact it was because of pressure from different sections, that the protesters “allowed” ambulances and school buses/vans to ply on the road.
There is massive resentment among the people—both commuters and local residents—who feel that in spite of the hardships they are facing, no action is being taken by the government to evict these protesters. “Why is the government complacent on this issue? They should have taken steps to clear the road to restore normalcy in the area. But I don’t know what is preventing them from doing so,” wondered a resident of the area.
A lawyer has filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the Delhi High Court’s verdict that did not order the forthwith removal of traffic restrictions. The Delhi High Court had merely asked the Delhi Police to look into the grievances ventilated by the petitioner while also keeping in mind the larger public interest as well as the maintenance of law and order.
On Friday, there was massive uproar when the police wanted the removal of a tent from where langar was being served. People were seen shouting slogans against the Delhi Police when the person who had set up the tent uprooted it. There was announcement that four of the protesters had gone to the police station, after which a call was given to boycott them.
“Those who have gone to the police station are not our representatives. Nobody from us will go anywhere. Whoever has to talk will have to come here, on stage,” said one of the announcers from the dais.
It was a Friday afternoon and the protest site had turned a praying ground for the Muslim community. Prayers were offered after which a call was made to all fellow practitioners of Islam to stay vigilant against any threat to their brethren.
Repeated announcements were made from the stage to be seated properly so that that water and a fruit drink could be distributed. There were a significant number of children who had come with women protesters. The National Anthem was sung after order was restored. There were announcements asking journalists to talk to only those people who were on stage.
A lady reporter from a TV channel, who was witnessing the proceedings from one side, was asked to go to the dais and not roam here and there and take sound-bites. In fact some people objected to her talking to one of the protesters. Later in the evening, a senior journalist was heckled by the protesters.
Though an effort is being made to portray Shaheen Bagh as a protest to save the Constitution, in reality posters with several offensive messages have been put up heaping abuses on the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. One such poster reads:
The protest appears to be without focus with issues other than CAA also finding mention. One such issue finding mention is the junking of EVMs and conducting of elections with ballot paper.
The entire Shaheen Bagh area is charged with anti-CAA slogans. A group of children returning from school in a street were seen shouting “Azadi, Azadi, Azadi”. “They have been hearing it for the last 42 days and that’s what they are imitating,” said a resident.