Sedition cases have been filed in Assam and Uttar Pradesh against a JNU PhD scholar, who was earlier associated with the Shaheen Bagh protest in Delhi, for a speech he made against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act at Aligarh Muslim University on January 16.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra claimed at a press conference in Delhi that Sharjeel Imam had made the speech, where he called for stepping up the protests in Assam through road blocks to force the Centre to listen, at Shaheen Bagh on January 24. He said it was “a classic case of jihad” and “a conspiracy was brewing at Shaheen Bagh to end India’s Independence”.
At a press conference in Guwahati, Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma called Imam “the main organiser of the Shaheen Bagh protests”, and said, “A lot of wrong things have been said, that in Assam, Bengalis, Hindus and Muslims, are being killed... We are going to bring this person to law.”
At both the press conferences, the BJP leaders played a clip from Imam’s speech. Union minister Jitendra Singh also slammed Imam over his comments.
Imam, who is pursuing PhD in Modern Indian History, did his graduation from IIT-Bombay in computer science. While an active volunteer at the Shaheen Bagh protest since it began, starting December 16, he had left on January 2 after the protesters rejected his call to end the stir. In his January 16 speech too, Imam criticised the Shaheen Bagh protest as having become an “exotic getaway” for Delhi’s civil society.
On Saturday, the current coordinators at the Shaheen Bagh protest criticised Imam over his comments. “He is not even from the area and was using this platform to promote himself. That is why locals forced him to leave. Our peaceful women-led protest is to uphold the Constitution,” Meraj Khan said.
In a tweet announcing action against Imam, Assam Additional DGP (Law and Order) G P Singh attached a YouTube video of his speech, uploaded by a channel called Youth Neeti on January 17 under the title ‘Sharjeel Imam Students Activist JNU | Day 32 AMU PROTEST AGAINST CAA NRC NPR’.
Aligarh SSP Akash Kulhary said the sedition case had been lodged against Imam on Saturday. “A police team has been sent to arrest him from Delhi... A video had gone viral where the accused is talking about disintegration of India. Based on that, we have lodged the FIR.”
Sarma said, “This entire agitation — Shaheen Bagh or rest of India — has been caused by members of a community who want to destroy India, create another Pakistan out of India. People of Northeast will not allow anybody to take Assam out of India.”
Imam told The Sunday Express, “I was saying we should try to peacefully block roads wherever possible. In that context, I said you have to block roads going to Assam. It was basically a call for chakka jam.”
Saying he spoke for an hour, he added, “They can put cases on me by editing these clips, but there is nothing that they can prove.”
In the video of the speech available on social media, Imam can be heard telling a small crowd that no political formation, the Congress or the Communists, had ever stood with Muslims, believing that the Constitution would emancipate Muslims was “a suicidal thought”, and that they must “use the anger productively”.
He gave the example of a Kanhaiya Kumar rally in Bihar, where “around five lakh people turned up”, and said, “If we have five lakh people with us, we can cut off the Northeast from India. If not permanently, for one or two months. Put rubble on tracks and roads.... Assam aur India katke alag ho jaaye, tabhi ye humari baat sunenge (Once Assam is cut off, then only they will listen to us)... We can do that because the Chicken’s Neck corridor (connecting Northeast to rest of India) is dominated by Muslims.”
He also called for more roads in Delhi to be blocked, like at Shaheen Bagh, to put pressure on the government.
AMU spokesman Professor Shafey Kidwai told PTI that some of Imam’s comments were “highly objectionable” and they will write to police to take strong action.
Patra asked what Imam meant by saying “use anger productively”. “The kind of statements being made at Shaheen Bagh, which should be called disha-heen (directionless) Bagh, touheen (Insult) Bagh... Some kind of conspiracy is brewing at Shaheen Bagh to finish India’s Independence, we have evidence... Recall the attempts to establish a Caliphate in many Arabic countries.”
Patra asked Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi if they still stood with Shaheen Bagh.
Responding to the remarks, Kejriwal said, “We are with each and every resident of Delhi. We are with Sangam Vihar, we are with Rajinder Nagar.”
With inputs from Aranya Shankar