Why did Chandrashekhar Azad, leader of the Bhim Army, go to Jama Masjid on 20 December 2019 and then again on 18 January? That he wanted to voice his disapproval of the CAA and the NRC is well known. In fact, his first action on being released from Tihar Jail a few days ago was to return to Jama Masjid and vent his anger against the CAA and the NRC, which he described as kaley kanoon or black laws.
Azad does not mince words and is willing to hit out against the Modi government. Says he: “The Jama Masjid is a place of great historicity. At the time of the partition of the country, Maulana Azad had stood here and appealed to the Muslims that they should not move to Pakistan as such a move would prove inimical to their interests. Once again, there is a move by the present government to divide the country along religious lines. I come from a village. We are all aware that the CAA and NRC will cause untold sufferings to the poor while the political class will remain unaffected. It was an imperative for me to raise my voice against such a move.”
But the government claims that Azad’s presence at Jamia Masjid in December led to a heightening of tensions, so much so that it left several protestors injured at Delhi Gate. Azad insists such a criticism was false because when he was there last month, he had a copy of the Indian Constitution with him. He had only read out its Preamble to the enthused crowds.
“I did the same when I went back to Jamia Masjid,” he says. “I read out the Preamble of our Constitution. It is the duty of every citizen to protect it. With the present government trying to divide the nation on the basis of religion, this amounts to nothing less than weakening our Constitution which is respected around the world and is looked upon as a unique document.”
Had Ambedkar not authored the remarkable Constitution, Azad says, then Dalits such as myself and lakhs of people belonging to the oppressed communities would have continued to be subjected to humiliation on a daily basis, he says.
Azad speaks with passion and that is one of the main reasons for his appeal amongst the youth. He also does not hesitate to take a snipe at prime minister Modi, which is why the BJP has little love lost for him. Now, the court has asked him to speak respectfully of Modi. Azad told me that he “agrees with that” and then he quips, “Shri Shri Modiji occupies a constitutional position but I would also request him to respect the Constitution instead of weakening the foundations of our country. I would not have opposed the CAA if he had included Tamils and Muslims rather than differentiating refugees on the basis of their faiths.”
Azad says he emulates his hero, the revolutionary freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad. He has, of course, combined his trademark moustache with a blue scarf. He is all praise for the thousands of women who have been sitting day and night in the cold weather protesting against CAA-NRC but is unhappy over students, especially women, being beaten up in Jamia Milia Islamia and at JNU.
“It is very sad....thereafter, students were beaten up in JNU, AMU, DU and other universities. I am very proud of the way hundreds of our sisters along with their children have been sitting there for over a month. But if prime minister cannot hear their voices, how will he hear the voices of crores of people living in the villages?” he says.
What has really alarmed Azad is the statement of RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat on Friday that there was no question of backing out from the CAA. “It is alarming that this statement came not from the PM or the home minister but from the RSS. It just shows that the RSS is the BJP and the BJP is the RSS. We all know their agenda is to establish a Hindu Rashtra. The RSS has never accepted our Constitution and that is why they are jailing people for reading the Constitution. But opposition to these laws will not cease. We will fight and get these laws repealed even if this involves going to jail a thousand times,” he says, with bravado.
Azad was jailed in 2017, in an environment of growing atrocities against the Dalits. The Dalits, at the same time, have emerged as an important vote bank. Was the present regime worried that Azad’s appeal amongst the Dalits was growing. Could this be one reason why he is being jailed frequently? “Maybe,” Azad says, “I am being stopped from entering Delhi because I am a Dalit.”
In his view, anyone who opposes the government is dubbed an anti-national, but it is the opposition parties who keep alive the spirit of democracy. “The BJP believes that the more muddied the politics of this country will become, the more the lotus will bloom,” he says.
Azad also clarifies that he has no plans to enter the electoral fray at present. “We had thought of contesting elections but a decision has been postponed. Fighting the CAA-NRC is a much more crucial battle. I want to meet the protestors who have been jailed in UP. It is important to remove their fear and to build up a sense of solidarity across the country,” he says, adding, “I am ready to be led by anyone who has raised the gauntlet against the government.”
“There is no court bigger than the people’s court and why should the prime minister presume that he is larger than the Constitution,” he says. Agreed, no political party is leading this protest. Rather, it is being led by the people.
“The country is going through a very crucial juncture,” Azad says. “If we do not speak up now, we will not be able to go back.”
The author is a freelance journalist. The views are personal.