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India: Politicians milking citizenship law protests


The protests against India’s new citizenship law has become an important plank for political parties ahead of provincial assembly elections in the national capital city of Delhi. The elections to choose 70 members of Delhi legislative assembly are scheduled on Feb. 8.

Since Dec. 15, last year when the Indian parliament adopted the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) a South Delhi locality of Shaheen Bagh has become a focal point for protesters, drawing parallels with Egypt’s iconic Tahrir Square, the site of anti-government demonstrations over the decades.

The law granting citizenship to non-Muslims migrating from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan is believed to be discriminatory against 180 million Muslim population in India.

The crowd, led by women, had gathered to protest police action against students of nearby Jamia Millia Islamia – a central university, who were protesting against the citizenship law, believed to be discriminatory against Muslims. But they continued sit-in and occupied a road linking Delhi with the neighboring province of Uttar Pradesh (UP).

Since elections in the city are around the corner, protests at Shaheen Bagh, a predominantly Muslim locality have become a political slanging match between the rival parties. The Aam Aasmi Party (AAP) which is ruling the city over the past five years is pitted against the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ruling at the center.

Last week Pravesh Verma, a BJP MP from West Delhi created a flutter, by accusing protesters at Shaheen Bagh of criminal acts. He warned people that if they do not vote for the BJP, these protesters will harm them.

“If the BJP manages to form a government in Delhi, there will not be a single protestor at Shaheen Bagh. They (protesters) will enter your homes, rape your mothers and sisters and kill them. The people of Delhi have to wake up, “he added.

Analysts say that the BJP is trying to polarize voters on religious lines ahead of polls. Even the Home Minister Amit Shah, star campaigner for the party is using ongoing protest at Shaheen Bagh to create fear among the majority Hindu community. At an election rally, he asked people to vote passionately and prevent protests like Shaheen Bagh.

“Your vote will also secure Delhi and the country and will also prevent incidents like Shaheen Bagh, “he said.

Election Commission takes notice

Another Union Minister Anurag Thakur at an election rally raised provocative slogans that “traitors should be shot”, implying to protesters at Shaheen Bagh. He described those protesting against the citizenship law as “traitors”.

Taking notice of provocative speeches, the chief election officer of Delhi has sought a report over such statements aiming to divide people along religious lines.

Earlier, Election Commission on Jan. 25 imposed a 48-hour ban on a BJP candidate Kapil Mishra from campaigning, holding him responsible for violating the code of conduct.

Delhi Police also registered a case against him, for his contentious tweet, comparing the upcoming assembly polls in Delhi with an India versus Pakistan contest.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, who also heads the AAP has based his entire campaign on the performance of his government.

He accused the BJP of using the Shaheen Bagh protest for their political gains. He said law and order in the national capital entirely lie with the Centre and they can open the road if they want but they do not want to.

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