The national spokesperson of the BJP, Syed Shahnawaz Hussain has been its rare Muslim voice for a long time, explaining and defending the party’s positions on issues. Express Photo by Abhinav Saha
Shahnawaz Hussain: There is a protest on at Shaheen Bagh, behind it are Asif bhai (Asif Mohammed Khan), Amanatullah bhai (AAP Okhla candidate Amanatullah Khan), Arvind bhai (Arvind Kejriwal), Rahul bhai (Rahul Gandhi)... We have been saying since the beginning that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act won’t take away anyone’s citizenship, but give citizenship to minorities being persecuted in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
I am ready to concede that we never anticipated that this issue could even lead to an agitation... However, wherever agitation is happening, it is being led by people who could not defeat Narendra Modi in elections, or make him unpopular... Yes, the NRC (National Register of Citizens) was held in Assam as per the Assam Accord, but if a Bangladeshi goes to another state, it still remains essential to identify him or her... Rumours are being spread about citizenship being taken away. When the Prime Minister said from Ramlila Maidan (Delhi) that those Muslims whose ancestors were born here have nothing to fear, the matter should have ended there... I have placed what is happening before the PM, Home Minister, senior BJP leaders, and we are trying to counter the misconception...
The situation for Muslims in the country is very good. In fact, I would say, India is the best country for Muslims in the world.
I keep repeating that for Indian Muslims, Bharat se achcha desh, Hindu se achcha dost, aur Narendra Modi se achcha neta nahin mil sakta (there is no better country than India, no better friend than a Hindu, and no better leader than Modi).
LIZ MATHEW: How much do you think Shaheen Bagh helped the BJP in the Delhi polls?
You should ask those who organised the protest, who hoped to gain from it. The protest has nothing to do with me or my party. They first got the people to sit there, organised them, and then stayed behind the scene. It is the AAP and Congress’s doing. A local issue has been made into a national and international issue. Asif Khan and Amanatullah Khan have done this just to win the Okhla seat (which covers Shaheen Bagh)... What do we tell the protesters? Amit Shahji clearly explained the matter to the Congress’s lawyer leaders like P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal in Parliament....
LIZ MATHEW: So you think the concerns of Shaheen Bagh protesters have no substance?
Not at all. In Parliament, both those in favour and those opposed to the Act participated in discussions. Amit Shahji gave explanation for each and every line. The Congress itself says in Parliament that its government sent back 71,000 Bangladeshis, and then taunts us, asking how many have we sent back. This law does not apply to the 130 crore Indians, it only fulfils Mahatma Gandhi’s promise, what Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru had said. It was also a part of the Nehru-Liaquat pact (the 1950 pact between India and Pakistan over refugees). We included Afghanistan in the CAA because earlier a lot of people came from there... More than 500 Muslims who came from Pakistan have been given citizenship by the Modi government.
The Citizenship Act, 1955, exists anyway. We give citizenship under it, whether it is to someone who is married in Pakistan or asks for it, be it Adnan Sami, Salma Agha... Fear is being spread among Muslims, that they have to prove their citizenship, that they would be sent to detention centres. Daraane ki zaroorat nahin hai, na darne ki zaroorat hai (there is no need to spread such fear, neither is there any reason to fear)... Who is asking for documents? People who are literate have resources and the papers already. Those who don’t, they already get gas cylinder, Ayushman Bharat benefits, widow pension.
LIZ MATHEW: But how do you explain the speeches of BJP leaders throughout the Delhi poll campaign, pitting the contest as that between those who back Shaheen Bagh and those who back, for example, surgical strikes, and slogans like ‘shoot the traitors’?
That is why I keep referring to the PM’s reassurance to Indian Muslims. The Home Minister (Amit Shah) said in Bengaluru and Lucknow that India is as much of the country’s Muslims as it is his. There is less discussion about such things... On the other hand, slogans like ‘Desh ke gaddaron ko’ — I only heard Anurag Thakur (MoS, Finance) saying this part, he didn’t say goli or maaro....
LIZ MATHEW: Earlier, the slogan was raised by BJP candidate Kapil Mishra.
I am part of the BJP Central Election Committee, which has 10 members. I sit with them for hours. I have full confidence in my party. There is nothing that suggests this in either the PM’s words or heart... The BJP is a big party with 13-14 crore members. Often there can be statements which we have to disown, like what Anantkumar Hegde (BJP MP from Karnataka) said. It has been made clear that no insult to Bapu (Mahatma Gandhi) will be tolerated.
RAVISH TIWARI: If Jats or Marathas protest, Bills are introduced and attempts are made to talk to them. But this government seems to not care that Muslims have been sitting on the road for over a month, in peak winter... Aren’t they a part of this country?
BJP national spokesperson Syed Shahnawaz Hussain with Associate Editor Liz Mathew in The Indian Express newsroom. Express Photo by Abhinav Saha
Absolutely. In our opinion, it is clear, those who didn’t love this country, those who accepted Partition on the basis of religion, they went to Pakistan. Those who chose to stay behind, there is no doubt on their patriotism. However, it is a very innocent community. Politics has been played with them and they have been incited. The Jat, Meena, Gujjar protests were for reservations, not against a law that has been introduced... If someone is sitting on agitation due to rumours, what is the point of discussion? Neither the PM nor the Home Minister or the Defence Minister speak of things in terms of Hindu-Muslim. However, all three have spoken and clarified that Indian Muslims have nothing to fear.
RAVISH TIWARI: Why is the government asking for details of parents’ date and place of birth in the new National Population Register (NPR)?
The NPR is a means to collect information such as who is poor, who is ailing, who couldn’t be looked after by the government... When the Congress brought the NPR, it was secular, and when we introduced it, it is communal! Amit Shahji has said that if you don’t want to give any information, don’t... When the same information is asked for in a passport, no one has any problem....
SHALINI LANGER: Amit Shah has said the government will bring in an NRC.
That was in the context of Assam... We have been underlining the difference between refugees and infiltrators for a long time, that we will help those being persecuted in name of religion. Is there anybody coming from Pakistan seeking citizenship, except those coming illegally whom the BSF deals with?... Why this insistence by AAP or the Congress that we include Muslims in the CAA?... Will they ask next that we remove the Army, BSF etc, from the border, make it Akhand Bharat?... No objections were raised when the Congress took in people from Uganda, Indira Gandhi did so too in 1971. Is it Modi’s crime that he wiped tears of those who have been waiting for citizenship for long?... There was no crime in either abrogating Article 370 or bringing in the CAA...
VIJAY KUMAR JHA: You say AAP or Congress leaders are behind Shaheen Bagh. Does the Union government have any proof of this? And if yes, why does it not take action against them?
What action can one take against those organising protests? They are just spreading rumours, fear, showing pictures of detention centres, using small children.
There is talk of killing Modiji and Amit Shahji. Poison is being spread about them. This is wrong. If there is any incident of genuine harassment of Muslims, I will go and meet them.
VIJAY KUMAR JHA: But shouldn’t those spreading rumours, like you are saying, also be identified? The BJP government in Karnataka has even taken action over a play on the CAA staged in a primary school.
Everyone can see what is happening. Kanhaiya Kumar is going around the country, persuading people, spreading fear. (Asaduddin) Owaisi saheb is an old expert at this. He sees that this may be his chance to woo Muslims over to the AIMIM by inciting them. Everyone is dreaming, everyone sees himself as a leader of Muslims. At the time of Partition, even Abul Kalam Azad was abused because he stood on the side of truth. It’s the same situation today... We are exposing those behind the protests politically, going door-to-door. And if, according to Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi, this protest (Shaheen Bagh) is justified, why haven’t they gone there? Mani Shankar Aiyar, Shashi Tharoor can go there, so can those who call themselves Urban Naxals with pride.
VIJAY KUMAR JHA: Why was there a need to bring in the CAA since, like you said, the government still retains the right to decide citizenship. And why specify the minorities covered by it?
We just wanted to specify in the Act those who were religious minorities in the respective countries, or it would have meant their specification would apply... Bharat kya dharamshala hai, ki kahin pe bhi kuchch hoga to hum unko nagarikta de denge (Is Bharat a shelter home that we take in just about anyone and give them citizenship)? We have enough poor, including among Muslims....
AAKASH JOSHI: Do the PM’s statements like protesters can be identified from their dress, or tagging of people as Urban Naxals, help?
Look at the incidents at JNU. The people who indulged in violence were wearing masks so that police wouldn’t be able to identify them. The PM’s remarks were not intended at the Muslim community... Those behind violence, their clothes are different.
VANDITA MISHRA: But, please specify, how do protesters dress differently?
The PM said dress, how does that become Hindu-Muslim?... Is there any difference now between what Hindus wear and what Muslims do?... Everyone wears jeans and shirts. What the PM meant to say was that those behind the violence, they cover their faces... You know, we are the biggest party, and have Muslims too in large numbers. But a perception has been created that the BJP only has a Shahnawaz, a Naqvi (Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi).
MONOJIT MAJUMDAR: The CAA applies to only those who came to India till December 31, 2014. The government has been around since then. Why is it picking and choosing minorities for special concessions now?
We are with the people whose religious freedom is threatened in Pakistan and Bangladesh; Afghanistan had a strong number, who came long ago. Even if they face problems now, we raise the issue, with them and their envoys... Plus, we are here to help, we will decide as per situation.
LIZ MATHEW: What about the accusation that the CAA is directed at the coming Bengal and Bihar Assembly polls?
We don’t see anything through the prism of elections. We work for the country, and this Act was our commitment.
SHALINI LANGER: Assam is seeing huge protests against the CAA too. What is the misconception there?
There are two types of misconceptions there. The NRC was brought as per the Assam Accord and was monitored by the Supreme Court. The errors that crept into it are being addressed, including concerns of the people who have been left out. The PM too said this at the Ramlila Maidan. However, the Opposition in Assam tried to mislead the people. We clarified their doubts in Parliament too. There is no problem in Assam now. We have also signed the Bodo Accord. Assam is united.
RAVISH TIWARI: Educated Muslims are coming out on the streets in Delhi and Bihar. They can’t all be fools. What have you done to win over their confidence?
That is why I am here, to interact with them through your newspaper. The PM, the Home Minister are all addressing the issue... I have spoken about the NRC in my party, there is no such thing... I am on several forums, where all kinds of issues are discussed. And as a BJP spokesperson, I am among the first to be briefed on issues. I am fully briefed that there has been no discussion at the level of the party or Cabinet on the NRC... Modiji is a global leader. Why would he want such conflict within the country?... I keep reassuring the Muslim community that I am not a showpiece in the government. I put forward their concerns, and the response that I have got from the government, I am trying to convey that.
VANDITA MISHRA: Since the Ayodhya verdict, Section 144 has been imposed across Uttar Pradesh. People are being detained, driven underground.
I have cordial relations with the UP Chief Minister... When I met him, Yogiji said that the violence was orchestrated by Urban Naxals, the PFI (People’s Front of India), tukde-tukde gang, the SP, BSP and Congress. The common Muslim did not support the violence. A separate team has been formed to probe cases against innocent people who were arrested. They are being released after investigation.
TABEEN MATJEE: Today, Muslims feel threatened because there is no clarity on what documents are required... A youth recently opened fire at protesters in Jamia... Why don’t top BJP leaders openly condemn the shooting or the violence in Jamia, JNU and AMU?
People who are against India are plotting a big conspiracy. The Home Minister condemned it in the strongest terms. But nobody talks about his or the PM’s statements. As far as documents are concerned, nothing is required. If a man says he has lost his documents in a flood or fire... he will not be immediately asked to leave the country... Under the CAA, we haven’t asked for papers from Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. Despite this, why is this ruckus being created?... Suppose, if there was no CAA, what would have happened? Would they feel threatened?... There is nothing to worry because the Act grants citizenship... A fictitious narrative is being peddled... People are being intimidated with the help of the Assam NRC.
VANDITA MISHRA: So, why don’t you include Muslims in the CAA?
Should we include Hafiz Saeed too?... Then all Pakistani Muslims will say they are being harassed by (PM) Imran Khan and they will come here. Let’s also include all Baluchis and Mohajirs... Not even a single Muslim who came from Pakistan to India is asking for citizenship because they landed here surreptitiously....
SHYAMLAL YADAV: You have worked with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Modi. Who do you think is more secular? Also, having been a minister in the Vajpayee government, don’t you think you should be a part of Modi Cabinet?
Both love their country. The word secularism has affected Muslims the most. In the name of secularism, people change their parties. They say they are leaving the BJP because secularism is in danger. When it suits them, they return to the fold. Take Mamata Banerjee... I am a member of the BJP’s Central Election Committee and involved with the party organisation, I am the BJP’s official spokesperson... Even Amit Shahji joined the government after working for five years in the party... For us, both party and government constitute power.
LIZ MATHEW: When you came here last time, you severely criticised Nitish Kumar. What’s your view on him now?
At the time, they (the JD-U) were not in alliance with us. The Kauravas and Pandavas were brothers, but in the battlefield they were against each other... The one-time bitterness has made our ties sweeter and stronger....