I listened to the full 40 minutes of the speech. While television channels and the Bharatiya Janata Party are portraying Imam as a “raging Islamist” who is out to break India, it is worth focusing on a few points in his speech itself.
Who does Sharjeel Imam speak against in that speech?
- Gandhi. He calls him the “biggest fascist of the 20th century”.
- The Left, “a violent force”.
- The Congress, which he says is “responsible for the pathetic state of Muslims”.
- Kanhaiya Kumar, for “using the Muslim shoulder to fire-up his politics”.
- The JNU communists, who he says “ran away while goons beat up Muslim and Kashmiri students at JNU”.
- Professor Irfan Habib, for “poking his nose into modern history in an attempt to distort it”.
- The constitution, which people “don’t believe in”.
- The Jamia Protest Coordination Committee, as “they didn’t allow the ‘Allahu Akbar-waale‘ in”.
- Liberals and the idea of inclusion. He said those joining “our” protests must do so “on our terms”.
This is not to suggest that one cannot question individuals and institutions or that Sharjeel is wrong on all of these counts. It is, however, important to note who his chosen targets are – all those united today against the fascist assault on the citizens.
Now, what is more interesting is who Sharjeel Imam does not speak against. They are Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
In his view, the current protests have to be centred on “Muslim identity” and not on the liberal, secular, and inclusive idea of India.
For him this is a fight exclusive to Muslims. Television channels and government propagandists would also like us to believe the same.
Sharjeel’s problem with the Jamia Coordination Committee is that it’s not a Muslim-exclusive club. He laughs at the idea of an inclusive citizens protest. For him, others “joining in must also say Allahu Akbar”.
Obviously he doesn’t relate with the protests resonating with “Jai Bhim” and “Jai samvidhan”. When he talks of “hum”, he means Muslims only, not we the people.
He complains about being denied a stage at Shaheen Bagh for his “views”. No wonder Shaheen Bagh protesters cut off ties with him when he tried to turn the demonstrations into a Muslim-exclusive club. About three weeks ago, Imam had unilaterally declared the Shaheen Bagh protest over. The protest is still on, powered by the steely resolve of the dadis, the women of Shaheen Bagh and support of a cross section of citizens.
For him this fight is not to save the constitution.
He excludes, he mocks, he scoffs at the ideas that form the bedrock of the countrywide protests we are seeing. Radhika Vemula and Saira Bano hoisting the national flag along with the dadis at Shaheen Bagh, the 600-km human chain in Kerala, the Sikhs running langars at the protest sites, professionals, students, actors all joining for the idea of India are not Sharjeel’s ideas of protest.
While the country-wide protests against the CAA-NRC are rooted in Gandhian satyagrah and inclusiveness, for Sharjeel Imam, “Gandhi was the biggest fascist of the 20th century”.
TV and government propagandists have had their day with one short clip from his speech, about Assam. Let us be fair, he is talking of a blockade, not “cutting off” or separating Assam and the North East from India. This can be termed delusional at best. But it serves the regime’s purpose to pick and choose out of many outlandish bits from his speech.
Why would they care to amplify his views on the Left, the Congress and the secular or liberal protests? The agenda of regime spokespersons is to use Sharjeel Imam to discredit the legitimate, democratic citizens’ protests.
There are a number of examples from recent times when different sets of protesters have imposed blockades.
In 2008, BJP supporters blocked the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway for 12 days over the Amarnath land agitation.
In 2016, Jat protesters cut Delhi’s water supply by forcibly shutting down the Munak canal in Haryana during their quota agitation.
In 2016 again, Manipur faced an economic blockade for several months by the United Naga Council.
Assam itself saw an economic blockade by various groups as recently as last year in protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Protesters said they wanted to block the movement of Assam produce and oil refineries to the rest of the country.
How many sedition cases were filed in these instances?
Sharjeel Imam is being projected as the “mastermind” of the protests. He is the new primetime poster boy of the nefarious “tukde tukde” propaganda of the regime.
Predictably, the BJP has reworked its entire Delhi election campaign around the Shaheen Bagh protest and is trying to impose Sharjeel Imam as the face of the protests with the help of an unthinking media. It’s candidates and high functionaries are openly making bigoted speeches and giving calls to “shoot the traitors” at rallies.
It’s all playing out to a well-crafted script.
I urge you to listen to Sharjeel Imam’s full speech. It’s the rant of a deluded man. But delusion is not sedition. Who benefits from his rant? Your guess is as good as mine.
Mohd Asim is a Delhi-based journalist.