Waiting for Aazad: A chronicle of events from a meeting that did not happen in Hyderabad

Shahid Tantray For The Caravan
31 January, 2020

Chandra Shekhar Aazad “ran from house to house and jumped across terraces to avoid getting caught,” the Indian Express reported about a dramatic escape of the Bhim Army leader from the Delhi Police on 20 December 2019. Earlier that day, Aazad had read out the preamble to the Constitution to protest the Citizenship (Amendment) Act at the footsteps of Delhi’s Jama Masjid. Aazad later told The Caravan that the police had briefly detained him and then set him free. He reached Jama Masjid again at night.  

Early next morning, the Delhi police arrested Aazad in connection to violence that had ensued the previous day during an anti-CAA protest in Daryaganj, an area close to Jama Masjid. He remained in custody for over three weeks, till he was released late night on 16 January2020. Upon his release, he told The Caravan, “From tomorrow, we will teach people the Constitution, teach them their fundamental duties.” On the eve of Republic Day, he announced on Twitter, “To strengthen the mass movement against the black laws of the National Register of Citizens, the CAA and the National Population Register, I am coming to Hyderabad for the first time.”

In the afternoon of 26 January, Aazad was supposed to give a talk at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad. From there, at around 2.30 pm, he was to travel a distance of around fifty kilometers, to Crystal Gardens in the Mehdipatnam area to read the preamble. The next day, he was scheduled to visit the University of Hyderabad to speak to its students.

I reached Crystal Gardens at around 3 pm that day. Around one hundred people—of all ages—lingered outside Crystal Gardens eagerly awaiting Aazad’s arrival. Hours passed and Aazad was nowhere to be seen. We later found that the Hyderabad police had detained him. In those few hours, even without Aazad’s presence, I witnessed the aura he had built and his impact on all those who were present at the venue. The protestors hoped that Aazad would appear out of nowhere. 

Multiple cars were parked outside the venue filled with police personnel. As me and my friend got down from the auto, a policeman approached us and told us to leave as the high court had denied permission for the gathering, giving us the impression that the situation was more serious than it really was. But like the others, we waited outside. The police personnel were aggressively shoving people away from the entrance to the Crystal Gardens, which was barricaded from all sides. They said they had “strict orders” to disperse the protestors. The personnel even detained a few people, impressing upon the protestors that merely waiting outside the venue could get them detained. Aazad had posted on Twitter at 3 pm, “I am reaching Crystal Garden Mehdipatnam at 4 pm, but look at the Hyderabad police—they have made the spot a police camp and are stopping people from reaching the venue of the meeting.” 

The protestors I met, especially the students, had gone to various lengths to catch a glimpse of Aazad. A group of students from Osmania University told me that the police had detained a bunch of people, filled them in a van, before 3 pm itself. One of the students said that he was detained for half an hour as well. And yet, he had returned to the spot to wait for Aazad. A couple of young men in their twenties said that they had travelled all the way to TISS, around thirty kilometres away from the city, to see Aazad earlier in the day. They came back to the main city and reached Crystal Gardens by 3.30 pm–4 pm, to listen to Aazad for the second time in a span of a few hours.  

The promise of reading the preamble with Aazad sparked political conversations among the protestors. I saw a woman, who appeared to be in her fifties, explain to some younger women that Telangana was a state of Dalits and Bahujans,and the upper castes were dominant in Andhra Pradesh. A few people were also having debates on the Constitution. Some protestors showed each other a poster that was circulating online, announcing Aazad’s visit to the UOH the next day—it had a sketch of Azad sporting sunglasses and a superhero’s cape. At times that day, I felt like we were all waiting for a superhero who would be armed with a copy of the Constitution. Aazad is sometimes referred to as “Ravan”—the antagonist in the Hindu epic Ramayana—in the media and among his followers. Several Dalit movements across the country have claimed Ravan as their own. The title challenges the supremacy of Hindu Brahminical assertion centred on the figure of Ram. 

While the police repeatedly said that the meeting was cancelled, the protestors reassured each other that Aazad was on his way. A group of young women were trying to track his whereabouts through Twitter posts. Some people kept reiterating that Aazad had himself tweeted that he is coming. A young woman present at the site said, “He has started, he is going to find a way to come somehow.” 

Rumours were floating around that the police might try to stop Aazad from reaching the venue. But the impression of Aazad’s alleged theatrical escape from the Delhi police during the Jama Masjid protest reaffirmed the faith of the Hyderabad protestors that he could hoodwink the police. I overheard a man in his thirties say that apparently Aazad jumped on top of buildings on 20 December in Delhi. “Aazad has his ways” and “Have we not seen how he did it at Jama Masjid?” were common refrains throughout the wait. It would not have been a surprise if he appeared out of nowhere. 

At around 5.15 pm, word floated around that the police had detained Aazad. Some protestors were quick to dismiss it, while others had left by then. A few of the protestors wanted to get wilfully detained. “Maybe we should do a jail bharo andolan”—a protest to fill the jails—a man from the crowd suggested. Around 6 pm, some protestors raised the slogan, “Hum chheen ke lenge azadi”—We will snatch our freedom. Immediately, the police advanced towards the protestors and the crowd soon dispersed. 

We later learnt that the police had detained Aazad, but his whereabouts were not known till late that night. At around 11 pm, the News Minute reported that a few students and citizens had reached the Hyderabad police commissioner’s office in Basheerbagh to inquire about Aazad’s whereabouts. Some of these people were reportedly detained. The police then sent Aazad to Delhi the next morning.

However, it was unclear why the police refrained from giving him permission to hold the event. Just one day earlier, according to news reports, the chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao had announced that the state assembly would soon pass a resolution against the CAA. Rao also said that would hold a meeting of chief ministers and like-minded political parties in Hyderabad against the CAA, the NRP and the NRC.

 On 25 January, Aazad took to Twitter to speak about his foiled visit to Hyderabad. “@TelanganaCMO, remember that the Bahujan community would never forget this insult,” he wrote. “Jald waapis aaunga”—I will return soon.