No let-up, Amit Shah again: ‘With nation, or with Shaheen Bagh?’

Liz Mathew
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Union Home Minister Amit Shah during a public meeting, at Chhatarpur in New Delhi on Thursday. (ANI)

Having gone on the offensive in its Delhi poll campaign against those protesting over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the BJP on Thursday tried to modulate its stand in the wake of the firing at Jamia Millia Islamia University. However, while Union Home Minister Amit Shah assured that “the culprit will not be spared”, at his election rally hours later, he reiterated that the February 8 elections were a battle between those who had conducted “surgical strikes” and “the supporters of Shaheen Bagh”.

The incident occurred two days after BJP MP and Minister of State, Finance, Anurag Thakur, exhorted the audience at his rally to target “traitors”. He repeated the slogan “Desh ke gaddaron ko” several times, as the crowd responded with “goli maaro saalon ko”. On Thursday, Thakur, banned by the Election Commissioner from campaigning for 72 hours, did not respond to calls.

Shah said he had directed the Delhi Police Commissioner to investigate the incident in its “entirety” and take “strictest action” against the 17-year-old who had fired at protesters near Jamia. “The Central government will not tolerate any such incidents and the guilty will not be spared,” he tweeted.

At a rally in Chhattarpur later, Shah, who has been leading the BJP campaign in Delhi, said, “On February 8, you will be deciding who should form the government in Delhi... On one side it’s Narendra Modi, who conducted airstrikes and surgical strikes on Pakistan’s soil to kill terrorists, and on the other, there are these people who back Shaheen Bagh. You have to decide.”

In earlier rallies, Shah asked people to vote for the BJP so that “there is never a Shaheen Bagh” in the city.

Other BJP leaders too kept up their rhetoric against Shaheen Bagh, that has emerged as the epicentre of the protests. “Hypocrites @ArvindKejriwal @RahulGandhi @asadowaisi are blaming BJP because the arrested man is “GOPAL” (no BJP link). Had his name been “ISMAIL”, they would have kept mum. Don’t speak against Shaheenbagh. Had it been a Hindu majority Rambagh, they would have abused it daily,” BJP MP and spokesperson G V L Rao tweeted.

Read | Shah spells it out, again: Elections a contest between Modi and Shaheen Bagh supporters

On Thursday, a BJP delegation led by party general secretary Bhupender Yadav and Union Ministers Harsh Vardhan and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi approached the Election Commission accusing the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of “sponsoring” anti-CAA protests, including the one at Shaheen Bagh. They asked the poll panel to include expenses incurred on them in the expenditure of AAP candidates. Yadav claimed the BJP had submitted “evidence”, including statements by AAP leaders, showing that the Delhi’s ruling party was behind these protests.

Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari claimed that while he condemns the Jamia incident, there had been violent incidents at Shaheen Bagh as well, in which journalists were beaten up and slogans raised calling for killing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah. “There was talk of shooting PM there... Due to vote-bank politics, Kejriwal has spoiled the atmosphere of Delhi and now they are trying to make a new Pakistan by cutting Northeast from India.”

Tiwari also alleged a bomb had gone off in the hand of a protester before he could throw it and said that being the CM, Kejriwal should meet the Shaheen Bagh protesters and persuade them to clear the road.

At a rally in Jangpura Assembly constituency Thursday, senior BJP leader and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh alleged that “foreign forces” were “misleading” people against the CAA. “The decision is to be made by you, where you want the country to head,” Singh told the crowd, adding, “No Indian citizen including Muslims will lose their citizenship due to the CAA. Still, if the citizenship of a Muslim is questioned by anyone, the BJP will stand by him.”

The BJP believes its campaign against CAA protesters will help it polarise Hindu votes in the Capital, bolstering its chances against AAP, which is holding strong. Focus on the work done by the Arvind Kejriwal government in education or health sectors is not seen to be paying off. A party leader said, “(This is) because he is seen as a welfare CM, and generally electorate do not look into failures if one has initiated the efforts — a factor that helped the BJP and Narendra Modi also in the Lok Sabha elections.”

With Kejriwal and the Congress avoiding being drawn into a CAA debate, BJP leaders will continue to make statements hoping to provoke a reaction. “Unless the BJP convincingly projects Kejriwal and the AAP as the forces behind Shaheen Bagh, the strategy will not work,” a leader said.