Khalid Anis Ansari, New Delhi
Protests have to be purposive, expansive and with a clear sense of the core and subsidiary issues. In a first-past-the-post system it is also necessary that the protests aspire to convert more than 50 per cent of the population to its cause.
In a context where the Hindutva-Brahmanical discourse, organizations and parties are hegemonic and aspiring to construct a homogeneous majority Hindu community through Muslim as the antagonistic Other the key challenge for the Anti-CAA protesters at Shaheen Bagh (and other similar spaces) was to win over as many numbers from the majority community as possible. The key task was to spell out in details the dangers of the CAA-NPR-NRC to the majority community and win over their “hearts and minds”.
I am afraid despite all the rhetoric they seem to be failing in this objective—they seem to be converting the already converted over and over again!
The largely shared understanding among Anti-CAA protesters is that Shaheen Bagh protest was a spontaneous upsurge led by Muslim women that was triggered by the police violence on students in the neighboring Jamia Millia University. In the initial days the Shaheen Bagh protest was eulogized for furthering the agency of Muslim women and the rejection of “traditional” Muslim leadership.
However, those who have watched the space closely know that from the early days itself various groups have been around that have either jostled for ideological hegemony, tried to influence the decisions in varying ways or furthered their ambitions and agendas. This is true for all spontaneous movements.
So one has noticed politicians from various parties looking for electoral gains; NGO workers smelling funding opportunities and projects; journalists and academics hunting for op-eds, journal articles, book projects; Islamists; leftist (official, radical) activists and organizations like the Pinjda Tod and others; human rights activists; Dalit-Bahujan groups and so on. Having said that I still don’t think the hegemony of any one group is complete.
There are committed and engaged activists working round the clock and the movement still remains amorphous.
However, there are two logics that have probably inhibited the movement from expanding in politically productive directions.
First, most protests (over 2000 in various cities in the country) have been restricted to “Muslim” neighborhoods alone all the cosmopolitan support notwithstanding. Two, the left-adventurist slogans like “reclaim the spaces” or “bringing the city to a halt” have been embraced without the backing of any sustained mass-work.
That gives edge to the ruling dispensation that has the power of representation and communication under its control. So at one level the anti-CAA practitioners in Shaheen Bagh (and other such spaces) have the self-perception that they are working for a women-led progressive movement; they are on the right side of history; the regime is feeling threatened, etc.
At another level Hindutva groups have been framing these protests as “mini-Pakistans” led by the “Tukde Tukde gang/Lutyen’s lobby/Islamists” out to create “public inconvenience” by blocking the roads and creating commotion. It looks like each move led by the anti-CAA protesters is a grist to the mill of Hindutva factory.
Optics matters. The key question is whether the anti-CAA protests have been successful in converting a significant number from the majority community to their cause?
If the symbolism of the anti-CAA protests—spaces and vocabulary—is alienating the majority community further then what is the point of the protests after all? In the light of the recent Delhi violence is there a strong case for withdrawing these protests and do a serious rethink on the strategy?