Madhya Pradesh Police has booked around 2,000 people, including a Congress MLA who was one of the key organisers of the event, for violating lockdown norms after nearly 5,000 people assembled in Bhopal’s Iqbal Maidan on Thursday to protest French President Emmanuel Macron’s remarks in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon row.
Arif Masood, Congress MLA from Bhopal Central constituency who was among those booked, on Friday said that after the authorities denied his request for a gathering, messages were sent out on WhatsApp, informing about the protest and hundreds of people showed up.
“Even though a huge crowd assembled, it was an absolutely peaceful event. The people expressed their displeasure, and dispersed accordingly,” he said.
At the venue – Iqbal Maidan in the heart of Bhopal’s old city – the protesters burnt the French flag, raised slogans against Macron, and swore to boycott French products, ranging from Garnier to Renault and Dior. The protesters also submitted a letter to the sub-divisional magistrate, appealing the Union government, through the External Affair Ministry, to urge the French President to apologise, and that the demand be communicated through the French ambassador.
Masood, meanwhile, said he will challenge the FIR against him in court. “The police do not crack down on election rallies and gatherings that are in clear violation of Covid-19 rules and attract a much larger crowd,” he maintained.
On Friday, another protest called by Javed Baig, general secretary of Bharat Samajh Sangh, was called off two hours before the event due to lack of permission for the gathering. Baig said he had applied for permission two days ago and was given a go-ahead earlier. But on Friday morning, he said, the police told them that considering it was Friday, and that processions would be carried out on Eid-Miladun Nabi, the permission was being denied.
“People had already started coming in (by then) – around 1,000 people had already assembled when the police denied permission. We didn’t want to give a wrong signal by continuing with a gathering, so we called it off,” Baig said.
He is now preparing to hold the gathering on Sunday, provided permissions are granted.
While maintaining that he respects the decision by government authorities, Baig said their actions show “double standards”, as the police did not find gatherings during the recent festivals illegal. “Police ko sabke saath ek jaise insaaf karna chahiye (the police should treat all sides equally),” he added.
Aqib Javed, 22, who is pursuing a Law degree from Jagran Lake City University and was one of the participants in Thursday’s protest gathering on Iqbal Maidan, said: “India is a secular country, and the government should condemn the remarks of the French President. Islam is a peaceful religion; it is being misinterpreted.”
Protests have erupted in many parts of the world, including in many Indian cities, over Macron’s remarks earlier that “France would not give up cartoons”, seen as backing Charlie Hebdo’s controversial depiction of Prophet Mohammad.