Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s statement that the Centre is ready to talk to protesters in Shaheen Bagh is welcome. It is a mere tweet and it is not known what its implications are but in these goli-maaro times, it brings some assurance. The onus is on the government to impress the protesters that it is serious about holding a dialogue to assuage their fears over the new citizenship law that excludes Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
That’s not easy. Party leaders, including people holding high public office, have been extremely hostile to the Shaheen Bagh protesters — they have been consistently trying to frame the agitation using the binary of “us” and “them”, us being nationalists and them being anti-nationals. It’s time the party leadership starts viewing the protesters as part of us, the nation and its people, and recognise the peaceful protest as a legitimate expression of democratic dissent. The demonisation of the protesters as anti-nationals by the BJP leadership, presumably with the intent to polarise Delhi voters ahead of the February 8 assembly elections, has triggered extreme reaction from the party’s own cadres. Last week, soon after Union minister Anurag Thakur whipped up frenzy at an election rally where a mob chanted “desh ke gaddaron ko goli maaro”, a 17-year-old, who claimed to be a BJP supporter, fired at students in Jamia Millia Islamia, injuring one person. Later, on Saturday, a Delhi resident, identified as Kapil Gujjar, raised communal slogans and fired in the air at Shaheen Bagh. Delhi Police, which reports to the Union Home Ministry, was a mute spectator when both these incidents took place, raising questions about its conduct. The BJP leaders seem unfazed at the dangerous turn of events and have continued to engage in polarising talk. Over the weekend, at poll rallies in Delhi, UP Chief Minister Adityanath accused Shaheen Bagh protesters of raising pro-Pakistan slogans and alleged that the Congress and Arvind Kejriwal were feeding biriyani to terrorists from Pakistan.
The first step to calm tempers and prepare the ground for a dialogue in Shaheen Bagh is to get the BJP leaders to tone down their rhetoric and stop the vilification of protesters. The BJP has the right to criticise the anti-CAA protests, of course, and even make it an election issue. But the party should show the political maturity to desist from using it as an instrument to polarise society and instigate violence for votes, as its leaders such as Thakur, MP Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma, Adityanath and others have done. The genuineness of Prasad’s outreach to Shaheen Bagh will be tested by the BJP election campaign in the coming days.
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