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Friday, December 2, 2022

Dear SC, why can’t Shaheen Bagh protestors move to Jantar Mantar/Ramlila Maidan where everyone else protests?

In September 2016, after the horrific Uri terror attack which shook the entire nation, a group of us living in NCR decided to pay homage to the Army men who lost their lives by going to India Gate, laying a wreath at Amar Jawan Jyoti and then holding a candle-light vigil there. As we had never done such a thing before, we asked around and were told to approach the Parliament Street or Mandir Marg police stations to obtain due permission.

When we visited the police station, the officer on duty said that any group sitting at Amar Jawan Jyoti, India Gate was not allowed and asked us to hold our candle-light vigil at Jantar Mantar, the designated ‘protest site’ in New Delhi. One of us enquired whether we could hold the vigil outside the Pakistan embassy in the diplomatic area, but the officer just smiled and started doing other work. We got the message. Clearly, anything even remotely similar to the way the Indian Embassy was hounded and attacked by pro-Pakistan and Khalistani mobs in London recently, is simply out of the question in New Delhi.

Eventually, a few of us did lay the wreath at Amar Jawan Jyoti along with eminent columnist & activist Shri Sushil Pandit who graciously attended our event. Sushil ji also took part in the candle-light vigil at Jantar Mantar and delivered an impromptu speech which left us all moved.

It was the first time I saw the half kilometre long tree-lined boulevard outside Delhi’s Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory which acted as the country’s ‘protest junction‘. It was choc-a-bloc with various protesters – trade unions, social & political groups, individual protesters; many had camped out there for weeks. It was the same place where the Anna Hazare led India Against Corruption movement gathered pace in 2011. At any point of time, this site is dotted with at least 25-30 protest camps. Each year lakhs of citizens come to this part of the capital to make their voices heard.

In 2017, the National Green Tribunal banned protests at Jantar Mantar as they caused ‘noise pollution and unhygienic surroundings’, but this ban was overturned in 2018 by Supreme Court which said there was ‘a need for striking a balance between conflicting rights such as a right to protest and right of citizens to live peacefully’.

For larger protests, Ramlila Maidan in Delhi is the designated place. It was there that Yoga guru Baba Ramdev held his indefinite hunger strike against black money in 2011 – a peaceful demonstration that unfortunately invited a midnight crackdown by the rattled UPA-2 government; injuring 30 Baba Ramdev supporters and leaving one woman, Rajbala Malik (53), paralysed who later died due to her injuries.

Supporters of Yoga guru Baba Ramdev react to the Tear gas after midnight crackdown by police at Ramlila Ground on 4-5 June 2011 (Photo: AP)

So with such well-defined precedents on the designated spots in the national capital for protests, one wonders why the ‘protest’ at Shaheen Bagh since 15 Dec 2019, over CAA – a law that doesn’t even affect Indian citizens, has been allowed to carry on for so long. A major thoroughfare connecting Delhi to Noida has been shut down by this protest, causing inconvenience to lakhs of common citizens including school-children and forcing commuters to burn more fuel to take alternate routes.

But when an activist approached Delhi High Court pleading that the Shaheen Bagh protest site be cleared, the HC quashed the petition without stating any reasons and passed the buck to police & authorities. The activist then approached Supreme Court. The 2-judge SC bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph while admitting that protesters can’t block a public road and create inconvenience to others, went ahead and appointed ‘mediators’ to hold ‘consultations’ with the agitators.

Who are the mediators?

There are 3 mediators appointed by the SC: Senior advocates Sanjay Hegde & Sadhana Ramachandran and former IAS officer Wajahat Habibullah.

Habibullah is a died-in-the-wool Nehru-Gandhi dynasty man. A contemporary of Rajiv Gandhi in Doon School, he was the administrator of Lakshwadweep islands when Rajiv Gandhi and his family vacationed there along with their friends and reportedly misused aircraft carrier INS Viraat. He served in the Prime Minister’s Office during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure, and in Kashmir where he earned the trust of separatists as well.

In 2004, a paper he wrote for an American think tank generated a fair bit of controversy as it called for US ‘facilitation’ to end the Kashmir conflict. After retirement in 2005, Sonia Gandhi led UPA appointed him as Bharat’s first Chief Information Commissioner, and later as chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities. Wajahat Habibullah has strongly opposed the abrogation of Article 370.

Sanjay Hegde is well known on social media as a fake news peddler and foul-mouthed Hindu-baiter. He was the brains behind the bizarre Maanav Suraksha Kaanoon (MASUKA) Act which came as a result of the “lynchistan” narrative peddled to malign the Modi-led union government. He has been seen representing PILs attacking the Modi government.

Both Hegde and Habibullah are staunchly opposed to the CAA, which gives expedited citizenship to persecuted minority refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who migrated to Bharat on or before 31 Dec 2014. In fact, Habibullah has filed a petition in SC challenging CAA’s constitutional validity along with Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad and Swami Agnivesh – the petition alleges “the govt. has attempted to reverse the effects of Partition and emerge as protector of Hindus and become a “Hindu Rashtra”. Hyperbole, much?

How such worthies can claim to be neutral which any mediator should ideally be, we leave it to the wisdom of the SC bench to explain. In fact, there is a real danger that such mediators might end up indoctrinating the Shaheen Bagh agitators more than persuading them to see reason. The need for reforms in higher judiciary appointment process is something which has been staring us for many years now, but the insular SC Collegium has successfully blocked reforms like NJAC (National Judicial Appointments Commission) Act till now.

As soon as the mediation exercise was announced by the SC, more dubious operators from the liberal-secular Congress ecosystem like Teesta Setalvad descended among the Shaheen Bagh agitators to tutor them on how to interact with the mediators.

And so the circus drags on. Why the Shaheen Bagh protests were not immediately moved to Jantar Mantar or Ramlila ground, and why they have been allowed to hold the national capital hostage for over 2 months is just another one of those ‘secular’ mysteries which ordinary citizens can only ponder over.

When a ‘dadi’ like Rajbala Malik died in a brutal police crackdown on protestors gathered at the designated protest site of Ramlila ground, none of the secular-liberal elites in law, media, academia or Bollywood even mentioned her name; but today they just can’t stop fawning over the Shaheen Bagh ‘dadis’.

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