New Delhi: Sharjeel Imam’s pursuit of radical Islam and his ambition to trigger a nationwide stir based on Muslim identity politics brought him to the Left-bastion Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), testify his classmates in JNU.
According to sources, to fulfill his ambition of promoting Muslim identity politics, Sharjeel Imam even founded a separate students’ group called Muslim Students of JNU (MSJ). His MSJ group has around 300 members of JNU, who helped him organise many protests inside and outside the JNU campus. MSJ was the group that initially launched the Shaheen Bagh protests.
“Since his Master’s days, Sharjeel Imam has been ambitious, but in particular, he was upset with many policy initiations by the current regime, including the law against triple talaq and abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and he was not letting any issue go without launching a protest. Even when the triple talaq bill was passed, Imam organised a protest march inside the JNU campus,” one of Imam’s classmates in JNU told The Sunday Guardian on the condition of anonymity.
“Initially, Sharjeel Imam was part of the All India Students’ Association (AISA) and after leaving the students’ body, Imam and several other friends formed his own students’ group called Muslim Students of JNU. Influenced by Sharjeel Imam’s ‘intellectual aura’, members of the MSJ helped him carry out his agenda in the JNU campus and when the CAA issue came, it became an opportunity for Sharjeel Imam to propagate his ambition of taking Muslim identity politics forward. And in this background, the Shaheen Bagh protest was launched,” the same person said.
The Sunday Guardian has learnt that the JNU’s Left politics was a kind of boost for Imam who left a lucrative engineering job in Bengaluru as in his opinion, the corporate world was not the perfect space for Muslims and the community faced discrimination at every step.
“Imam used to tell us how he was bullied by Hindu students in IIT and later, during his corporate job, for keeping a beard and following Islam strictly. Imam got fame among Muslim students for being very particular about wearing his Muslim identity. Despite being an engineering graduate, I never saw Sharjeel forget offering namaz five times,” another student of JNU told The Sunday Guardian on the condition of anonymity. Imam entered JNU in 2013 for Master’s in Modern History and he immediately joined AISA, the largest ultra Left party on JNU campus. Imam also contested the JNUSU election 2015 as AISA candidate for the councillor post and left after Najeeb Ahmed went missing. Imam shared the same hostel with Najeeb Ahmed. Currently, Imam is pursuing PhD from JNU.
However, many AISA members disagree with the claim that Imam got alienated from AISA; rather they say that when he didn’t get a chance to turn AISA into a vehicle for promotion of his Muslim identity politics, he left AISA and perhaps this was the reason he’s critical of Left parties, including the students’ wing affiliated to it.
People on the JNU campus who know Imam say that he has been known for his inflammatory speeches, peddling false narratives and playing the victim card. Imam’s posts on his Facebook page also testify that he had radical views. For example, one of his posts expresses how his native place in the Jehanabad region had less number of Muslims and had been facing attacks from the Hindu community who are in a majority. He would say that the existence of Muslims in the Jehanabad region was in peril due to frequent attacks by Hindus from as far back as 1917. “My family members, especially my father Akbar Imam, has been a torchbearer of the Muslim cause, in a most difficult part of the country where the minority Muslim population faced numerous violent attacks by the majority Hindus of the surrounding areas. In such a situation, my father worked tirelessly to secure the dignity and lives of Muslims. For his whole life, my father tried to turn Muslims into an electoral force in his area. Now, that my father is no more, I would take his legacy forward and complete his work,” one of his posts reads. Imam is now in police custody and is facing sedition cases. He is also booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The cases are based on a speech he allegedly made at Aligarh Muslim University, Uttar Pradesh, on 16 January. In a video recording of the speech, Imam purportedly said that India and the Northeast could be “permanently cut” off if “five lakh people can be organised”.