“Haqeeqat-e-Abadi” or the eternal truth of the nationwide protests will only be energized by the “Police Zindabad” shouting country pistol shooter who fired into a protest outside Jamia Millia Islamia, not far from the peaceful Shaheen Bagh that I had left behind just an hour ago. A row of policemen, arms folded, or leaning on their lathis must have been disappointed by the pistol-mans poor marksmanship. He hit a student on his wrist. But expected TV channels went to town, which was the purpose.
Away from this nasty distraction (which only shows up the present regime for what is) a much bigger reality is unfolding, on an epic scale: the entire Indian opposition is being by-passed by the biggest protests since independence led by women, students and youth, ostensibly against the CAA, NRC and NPR but, as they gather momentum, the whole establishment.
History will record the Jamia Millia as the point of ignition for this avalanche which, in a sense, completes a circle. Three brilliant students, Dr Zakir Hussain, Dr Abid Hussain and Prof Mohammad Mujeeb, met in Germany and decided to join Jamia Millia to enlarge the reservoir of enlightened, progressive Muslims in the national movements. In today”s BJP parlance they would be called the “tukde-tukde gang” or “urban naxals”. It would have been difficult to foist “Pakistan” on them because that country had not been formed then. In fact, opposition to the two-nation theory was an article of faith with this batch.
In that enlightened stream were Anwar Jamal Kidwai and Shahid Mehdi. Prof Mushirul Hasan had seen the worst of Jamia as its Pro Vice Chancellor, when he was beaten up by university goons linked to a Congress leader who was riled over Mushir”s stand on banning books. Rajiv Gandhi had banned Salman Rushdie”s Satanic Verses. Mushir”s position was that books should be challenged, ignored but not banned. There must be something good in the system that Arjun Singh, as HRD Minister gave Mushir (by now elevated as Vice Chancellor) more freedom than any Vice Chancellor since has ever had. The result was a mushroom growth of centres named after unlikely figures: Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Mir Anis Hall and Mir Taqi Mir hall, M.F. Hussain Art Gallery and so on. Who knows, the movement may put fresh life into all of this.
Mushir explained his Left trajectory in terms of Jamia”s origins as an institution of the enlightened against colonialism and imperialism. Bringing about course corrections on that count (as has been attempted) ran the risk of being sucked into communal and identity politics. Peoples issue are overlooked. This is the dilemma of today”s liberals” face: they cannot give up on capitalism (therefore imperialism) even in its post globalization, post 2008 avatar. They often find themselves standing with the powerful establishments which redirect popular resentment against inequality, for instance, towards issues of immigration, ethnic identities. So you have Viktor Orban in Hungary, Matteo Salvini in Italy, Marine Le Pen in France, Nigel Farage in the UK and kindred souls elsewhere including Jair Bolsonaro, the Pinochet copycat in Brazil. Since Narendra Modi hand picked him to be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day Parade, it must be assumed that Modi probably nurses him as a model. This lot is clearly what the protests are arrayed against.
The eager-beavers looking for a suitable and urgent outcome have not noticed that the movement has already altered the scene. A movement that can provoke stalwarts of the BJP into such glorious absurdities, deserves a trophy. Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, said, “Shaheen Bagh protest is offering a platform to tukde-tukde gang. Delhi should have no place for such people.” Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma, BJP MP in Delhi, has gone one better. “What happened in Kashmir with Kashmiri Pandits could happen in Delhi also. Lakhs of people enter Shaheen Bagh. They will enter houses, rape and kill our sisters and daughters.”
He sends a shiver down the spine with his threat. “If the BJP comes to power on February 11, you will not find a single protester within an hour. And within a month we will not spare a single mosque built on government land .”
Anurag Thakur, Minister of State for Finance and Corporate Affairs, is even more inspiring: “Desh ke ghaddaron ko”, he exhorts, the crowd. On cue comes the response, “goli maro sa***n ko” (shoot the bastards). This goes on for minutes. If a peaceful nationwide movement can drive the BJP to such reckless intemperance, it has clearly achieved a great deal. Above all, this shaky behaviour has been aggravated by the protests coming so soon after reversals in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and, God forbid, Delhi too? Amit Shah will not give up on his incantation of “revenge” politics easily.
Another great achievement of the protests has been the secularization of the Muslim ghetto. The docile, homebound Muslim woman has for the first time being seen in her public avatar, articulate, dignified, involved. The hijab and the bindi are mingling — an elegant sight.
This is not a simple phenomena. It is not without a sociological readjustment within the family and community. Across communities, it has promoted a new bonhomie. Batla House, Jamia Nagar and Jama Masjid are that much more accessible because sheer exposure of different communities in a common cause has helped remove cobwebs of an uninstitutionalized apartheid.
The opposition will never be in a position to take advantage so long as its national parties hold onto their respective obsessions — the Congress urge to revive nationally and the Communist urge to revive in Bengal. These aspirations will remain road blocks. Yes, Sonia Gandhi may be able to sing a nicer swan song if she could somehow revive the spirit of 2004 when the Left was not an anathema. That plus a commitment to federalism will work. Soft Saffron has no future.
(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org).