Azad Maange Azadi

Chandrashekhar Azad seeks Amit Shah’s resignation, holds RSS responsible for violence at CAA protests

The Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar Azad at Delhi’s Jama Masjid, on the night of 20 December. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan
The Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar Azad at Delhi’s Jama Masjid, on the night of 20 December. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan
21 December, 2019

Around midnight on 20 December, Sagar and Shahid Tantray, a staff writer and the assistant photo editor at The Caravan, respectively, met Chandrashekhar Azad at the steps of the Jama Masjid in Delhi, surrounded by a large crowd of protestors. Hundreds of residents and students had been sitting on the stairs since the morning, protesting against the recently enacted Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Azad sat on the topmost stair in the middle of the crowd. Every few minutes, he would pick up a loudspeaker and add his voice to the crowd, chanting slogans like “Jai Samvidhan”—Hail the Constitution.

Earlier in the day, Azad had called for a protest to begin from the mosque to Jantar Mantar, in central Delhi. The police did not grant permission for the protest. Yet, at around 1 pm, hundreds gathered at Jama Masjid. As they chanted slogans against the CAA, Azad emerged from the crowd, holding up a copy of the Constitution. The police moved immediately to detain him, but he was subsequently released. The protestors then moved to Delhi Gate, where the police used a water cannon and lathi charged them. A vehicle was burned during the demonstration. The Caravan is unable to identify the arsonists.

Later in the evening, after Friday prayers, Azad posted a tweet saying that he was at Jama Masjid, among the crowds. In the early hours of Saturday, Azad was taken into police custody. He was formally arrested later in the day, reportedly for “arson and rioting, damage to public property, unlawful assembly and causing grievous hurt.” The Tis Hazari court rejected his bail plea and remanded him to 14 days of judicial custody.

Sagar: Tell us about your detention and subsequent release in the day.
Chandrashekhar Azad: The Delhi police personnel, who were in civilian clothes, caught me and locked me up in a room around here. But our people gathered around them and demanded my release, after which they had to let me go. I had told them, “If you release me, I’ll go back and protest.” But the police had no choice before the demand of a huge crowd, who stood there in my support.

The police told me that they will hang me upside down if I speak for Muslims. The police would have attacked us also. They provoked us, but we did not retaliate because we were protesting peacefully. There were people from the Delhi police in our crowd, in civil clothes, who were instigating our people. But we told our people that we will not move and will continue to protest peacefully here. We know that the protests turn violent on purpose. All these demonstrations against the NRC [National Register of Citizens] were portrayed as violent to prove the protestors wrong. These are agents of the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] and the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party]. The Delhi police is working with the government’s support. We understand everything. You also understand, but you do not say it because it might lead to a raid.

Sagar: Eight people were shot today in Kanpur, in your home state of Uttar Pradesh. Protesters are being detained and beaten across the state. Do you not think your leadership is needed in Uttar Pradesh?
CA: These steps in Delhi, the ones we are standing on? When the country was partitioned, [the Congress leader] Maulana Abul Kalam Azad sahab stood on these steps and declared that he would not let the Partition happen. Why would I leave such an historic place? Where would I go from here? My job is to make history accessible to people.

Today, these people are telling the same Muslims, “We will make you leave with the CAA; we will make you refugees and send you to Bangladesh.” You talk about accepting people from other countries, but where will you make them stay? In Adani and Ambani’s mansions? Where will you organise camps? Where will you get the money for that? They are inviting people, but how will they feed them? Where will you give them a job? Where will you give them a house? Do you have the resources to do this? The strength? Is your growing power as strong? You are nearing an economic crisis.

Amit Shah should listen to my suggestion though I am younger than him. He should publicly apologise for the mistake he has committed and should resign. You are a nationalist by name and if you understand the responsibilities towards the nation, you should immediately resign and withdraw the CAA and NRC. Stop this drama, accept your mistake, resign and sit at home. We do not need liars like you. Stop this drama, accept your mistake, resign and sit at home. We do not need liars like you.

Sagar: The government says that you do not understand the issue, that you are scaring and inciting people.
CA: Do you see this coat? Do you see this jacket? We are all literate people here. Do you know where the first protest happened? In the south [of India], where people are even more educated than us. Some of the first protests in India were in Jamia, JNU [Jawahalal Nehru University], AMU [Aligarh Muslim University], even BHU [Banaras Hindu University]. Who are these people? They are scholars.

Amit Shah does not have degrees. Narendra Modi does not have a degree. So they will call us stupid. They say, “If you sit amongst educated people, no one will get to know that you are uneducated.” Everyone knows how educated they are. Modi and Smriti Irani and Amit Shah should show their degrees. I am a law graduate, a double MA. I am not stupid; I am educated.

Shahid Tantray: Is this law anti-Muslim?
CA: Truth be told, Amit Shah said there are crores of refugees in this country. In a population of a hundred and thirty crore, who are the people in these crores? Muslims account for about thirty crore in the national population. After that there are the Dalits, then the Backward Classes, then Adivasis. These people believe in breaking things. Their politics is based on religion. They have no relationship with the country; they are not patriots. They believe in the ideology of the RSS and of [VD] Savarkar. They supported the Partition; we did not.

ST: Are Dalits and Muslims a united front now?
CA: Not just Dalits and Muslims—the entire country is together. No one has come here looking for a caste, and we do not look at caste before offering them a seat. These protests are nationwide. The students at BHU didn’t have a caste, nor did the students at AMU. Citizens are collectively against what is wrong.

Sagar: You are also going to launch a political party soon. Will you be fighting elections as well?
CA: Questions of politics later. First the country—do not talk to me like Modi media. What comes first? The country. Everything else comes after that.

ST: Is there an emergency-like situation in India?
CA: Right now it is like that, yes. This is not a democracy. The police has entered the Jama Masjid thrice during peaceful protests. Supreme Court guidelines said that we can protest peacefully. So why have they entered? They want to suppress our voices, because we stand with the truth while they stand with a lie.

ST: Do you think the Delhi police is doing the work of the government?
CA: They are the government’s people. After all, they have to take a salary. They are doing their duty, and we are doing ours. We stand with the nation and will not let it get divided.

The interview has been edited and condensed.