New Delhi: A little past midnight at Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid Friday, a queue of policemen in riot gear were ready for action but were feeling quite helpless.
Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, who had given them the slip earlier in the day, was right in front of them, barely 20 meters away, sitting in the heart of a roaring crowd shouting slogans against the CAA on the stairs of the historic mosque.
But he still could not be detained.
The only bulwark in the stand-off between the police and Azad — Jama Masjid’s entry gate. The police is not allowed to enter any religious site.
Azad had given the police a slip in the afternoon after they tried to detain him during a march led by the Bhim Army. He had started the protest there, holding out a copy of the Indian Constitution in his hand.
A policeman managed to hold his collar but he slipped from his hand and climbed atop the terrace of a building in the area. When the police chased him, he again managed to escape and hid inside a building. The policemen, could not locate him for hours, despite raids, till he came out himself and sat on a protest inside the Jama Masjid around 2 pm.
Soon after, the area’s Deputy Commissioner of Police deployed a full unit outside the mosque, to detain him as soon as he came out. However, the stand-off continued for 13 hours.
“The gate is open. The protesters are moving in and out, but we cannot enter a religious institution (Jama Masjid), so we are waiting outside,” a policeman on duty told ThePrint.
“He (Azad) knows that we cannot go in, which is why he is sitting there,” he added.
Speaking to ThePrint, Azad, in his signature blue scarf and a skull cap, presented a counter argument.
“We chose to protest here because years ago, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, was here and he raised his voice against the partition of the country on religious basis from these very stairs,” he said.
“Today, I am standing here because they are again trying to divide the nation on the basis of religion and we will not let this happen. We are against the two nation theory” he added.
“They have been playing this game of pakdam-pakdai (chase) since morning. The basic point is that we are protesting against this draconian law and the government wants to suppress us using the police but we are unstoppable and will find ways to voice our dissent,” he said.
‘Government misleading public’
Azad said that the government is misleading the masses, just like they did at the time of demonetisation.
“Amit Shah is saying that CAA will not affect the Muslims and common man will not suffer, but we do not believe that. Modi had said that demonetisation will only affect the rich and the ones with black money, not general public, but the complete opposite happened,” he said.
“This duo (Shah and Modi) just want to divide the nation for their politics,” he added.
Azad also pointed out that the government should focus on economic development and education instead of indulging in this politics of “hate”.
“No one is talking about the fee hike in JNU, the dipping economy, the poor GDP. Does a responsible government take up issues that are the most irrelevant or do they first work on strengthening the country’s foundation?” asked Azad.
Nation rising against the ‘black law’
According to Azad, the nation is rising against the “draconian” law and the protests are not fuelled by the opposition parties, as is being claimed by the government. He said that the protests were on to save the nation.
“People from across religions are here and these protests must go on to save the secular fabric of this nation. This government, which feels that they can identify people based on their clothes, should wake up and see that the country is rising against them.”
Azad added that by carrying out an NRC, the government doesn’t just want to weed out Muslims, but also adivasis, Dalits and anyone who is against their ideology.
“They want to declare an Emergency in the country where anyone disagreeing with them will be thrown out. Their plan is to rule for the next several terms,” he said.
‘This government stands exposed’
On the clarifications being issued by the government on the CAA and the NRC, Azad said that they now stand “exposed”.
“They have been exposed. The nation is on the streets and it is time for them to realise that these clarifications will not help, they will have to roll this back,” he said.
Speaking on how the Act is unconstitutional, Azad, who is also a law graduate, said, “It is in clear violation of Article 14 and 15 which state that there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion. If the government is using religion as a factor in this law to divide the people, is it not murder of the constitution?”
Taking a jibe at Modi’s remarks on identifying people through their clothes in a rally in Jharkhand, Azad said, “My blue scarf symbolizes equality. Now tell me, can you identify me by my clothes? Am I an infiltrator or a terrorist? I am the son of this nation, and only abide by the constitution. Whoever goes against the Constitution, I will stand against them,” he said.
The protest grew louder by the minute
It was past midnight, but the slogans were only getting louder and bolder by the minute. More and more people, from across communities, were joining in.
“Bhartiya Samvidhan zindabad” (Long live Indian Constitution), “Humara mulk zindabad” (Long live our country), “Humara bhaichara zindabad” (Long live our brotherhood), shouted a group of students.
Many Hindus and Christians too joined in, “Dharam ke adhar pe batwara nahi chalega, nahi chalega” (Partition based on religion will not be accepted).
As the temperature dipped, locals started serving tea and snacks to the protesters. Many opened their kitchens and bathrooms for people who wished to use them.
“We are all here to save our nation. No one will turn violent. We have opened our houses for the protesters. You can use the washroom if you want. We are also making tea and getting it for protesters,” a local said.
As more and more locals joined the protest, many curious onlookers started asking the police if Azad was still inside.
“Is he still inside? We saw him on TV. Is he hiding?” an onlooker asked the policeman on duty.
The policeman, who was visibly running out of patience, responded, “Why don’t you go inside and check it out for yourself? I am standing here because I can’t go inside. How would I know?”
The advice, however, backfired as the group actually went inside to find Azad leading the protest and shouting slogans and they ended up joining the protest, increasing its strength.
It was only around 3 am, that the police was able to detain Azad and disperse the crowd. However, even after Azad left, the chants of azaadi were still resonating in the otherwise dead, narrow lanes of Chawri Bazaar.