Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s noxious Shaheen Bagh comments underscore how Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party wants to convert the Delhi assembly election into a ‘nationalists versus tukde tukde gang’ narrative and reduce it to nothing more than an overtly polarised contest.
Considering this is the national capital, the election conversation should have been around larger national issues of development, jobs, government schemes, and the economy, among others. But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), despite being in power at the Centre, has chosen to ensure the dominant theme of its campaign remains around Shaheen Bagh, ‘tukde tukde’ gang, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, nationals versus ‘anti-nationals’ and more such convenient rhetoric. This, even as its main rival — Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — has based its entire campaign on its five-year governance and promises for the future.
Modi-Shah’s approach towards the Delhi election, however, fits into their larger disdain towards the national capital, the desire to make it a sum of binaries and project it as ‘a hub of nation-unfriendly activities’. The duo has long declared war on Delhi, given the city — particularly the elite Lutyens’ zone, campuses like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Jamia Millia Islamia as well as the tentacled sphere of influencers visiting Khan Market — is often critical of the BJP and its leadership. The segment critical of the BJP in Delhi is influential, has platforms where it can ensure it is heard, and more damningly, can reach out to an international audience.
BJP’s ‘Shaheen Bagh’ election
It is almost as if the anti-CAA protests in Shaheen Bagh and what they represent gave the BJP exactly what it was looking for — a polarising point to keep harping on.
Therefore, Amit Shah feels Delhi should “vote to get rid of Shaheen Bagh”. He also wants Shaheen Bagh to “feel the current” when people press the button on the EVM on 8 February. Then again, the former BJP president claims Kejriwal is not giving permission to “prosecute the tukde tukde gang”.
Amit Shah isn’t the only one spewing such rubbish. Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad Monday said the “true face” of Shaheen Bagh protesters had to be exposed and questioned why the AAP and the Congress were silent.
And minister of state for finance Anurag Thakur urged the election crowd in Delhi to chant “shoot down the traitors (Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko)”.
The BJP and its campaigners do talk about other issues, but Shaheen Bagh and communal polarisation (like its leader Kapil Mishra calling the election a contest between India and Pakistan) has become the dominant theme for the BJP. Essentially, the Delhi election is now simply about the Shaheen Baghs of the world, while Modi’s favourite vikas (development) and jan kalyan (welfare) talks have been relegated to some dark corner.
The BJP is used to playing this dangerous, polarising game ahead of elections. Its entire politics is built on a toxic mix of communal and nationalistic agenda. But even then, and especially under the ‘pro-vikas’ Modi, the party has raised development initiatives just as much as it has temples and ‘termite’-like infiltrators. And yet, Delhi election is jarring because of the number of times people have been made to hear Shaheen Bagh and tukde tukde gang, but rarely the BJP’s plans to improve Delhi residents’ quality of life if it is voted to power.
The Delhi discomfort
Reducing the Delhi election to a ‘Shaheen Bagh versus India’ contest gives away Modi-Shah’s larger discomfort with the national capital.
Both have looked at themselves as ‘outsiders’, and Delhi’s elite, its media and all its intellectuals and influencers as enemies. The war on Delhi, therefore, has been a long one.
It flared up in February 2016, when one of India’s premier institutes Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) was first dubbed as “a hub of anti-national activities”, while its student leaders were arrested and slapped with sedition charges. The university has remained in the eye of storm ever since, with the recent attack by masked goons only taking that tale forward. The ‘urban Naxals’, the ‘tukde-tukde’ gang, the unpatriotic elements — all live in Delhi, and the BJP’s purpose in life is to teach them all a lesson.
Modi’s ‘Khan Market gang’ jibe in May 2019 further highlighted this contempt and dislike for Delhi’s influential sections. That grouse is now coming out in the form of this Shaheen Bagh-obsession ahead of the Delhi election.
Imagine, this locality in Delhi, which was unknown before the anti-CAA protest began mid-December, has become the BJP’s prime enemy, almost its raison d’être, in this election. Sources in both AAP and BJP say Arvind Kejriwal has a definite edge in this election. So, perhaps by making Shaheen Bagh and the ‘tukde tukde’ gang their chief rival, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah want to send out an even more dangerous message to their voters — that either they are with the BJP, which espouses the real ‘idea of India’, or with these ‘separatist’ elements who are out to destroy the country.