On Sunday, the Bharatiya Janata Party's Delhi unit announced that nearly 200 people from the Muslim community had joined it. These people were residents of Shaheen Bagh, Okhla and Nizamuddin localities in the capital.
One among them, Shahzad Ali, was reported to be a Shaheen Bagh "activist". The Aam Aadmi Party did a press conference on Monday, saying “now that prominent Shaheen Bagh activists have joined the BJP, it’s clear that the Shaheen Bagh protests were sponsored by the BJP”.
But is Shahzad Ali, a "prominent Shaheen Bagh activist"? Was he in any way, leading the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act that went on in the national capital for nearly 3 months? Those who were part of the movement vehemently deny this claim.
“Shahzad Ali was one of the many volunteers who were part of the protests. He was more of a self-appointed security volunteer,” said Kehkasha, a woman protester who was part of the movement since the beginning.
She used to run a makeshift school at the protest site. “I’ve been there since the beginning and I’ve never had to even interact with him, he was not at all known to people,” she said.
Ritu Kaushik, another woman who had been a part of the Shaheen Bagh protests since the beginning and was in charge of the stage, said Shahzad Ali was not even a regular there.
“No one even knew him there. He would come on some days and keep to himself. I’ve never seen him even get on the stage. And now he’s being called a ‘main guy’. The protests were largely about women and by women. How does it matter that one man who used to come to the protests on some days has joined a political party?” she said.
Shahzad was often spotted at the site in Shaheen Bagh but was never seen leading the protest in any manner. Most women we spoke to weren’t even familiar with his name. He has been a former Delhi unit secretary of the Uttar Pradesh-based Rashtriya Ulama Council, a political outfit known to be pro-BJP.
The BJP says that Shahzad "never protested" and was actually opposed to the protests. “Shahzad is a resident of Shaheen Bagh and a social worker there. He never protested. He was opposed to the protests and in fact, always tried to convince the people of Shaheen Bagh to call off the protests,” said BJP spokesperson Nighat Abbas.
Abbas told News18 that she helped organise this newly formed support base for the BJP in these Muslim-dominated areas. She aided the Delhi BJP in the joining of nearly 200 Muslim volunteers, including Shahzad. “Shahzad was not an anti-CAA protester himself but he did manage to convince some anti-CAA people to join us,” she said.
Asif Anis is one such anti-CAA protester from Nizamuddin who has joined the BJP. He is an architect and is perhaps one of the few people on the list apart from Shahzad Ali with any known links to the anti-CAA movement.
“I was not against the BJP, I was against the Act. But now. Nighat Abbas ji has spoken to us, at length. I am convinced that the Act is also not harmful to Indians Muslims,” Asif Anis said.
Mehmood Pracha, an activist and a lawyer associated with the anti-CAA movement, said, “There were thousands that turned up for the Shaheen Bagh protests. Except for the women who felt they needed to fight to protect the Constitution, there were people who may have been planted by the RSS. People who used to try to instigate protesters or disrupt the protests from its core constitutional values. Shahzad is one of them. They have been unmasked now and more will be unmasked in the days to come.”
Apart from Shahzad Ali, two other people shared the stage with Nighat Abbas and Delhi BJP president Adesh Gupta: Dr Mehreen, a gynaecologist who lives in Shaheen Bagh, and Tabassum Hussain, a former AAP worker.
Both these women have no known affiliation to the Shaheen Bagh protests. “Dr Mehreen is a qualified doctor and Tabassum Hussain used to be in AAP. Both these Muslim women have joined the BJP because they believe the party has done good work for Muslim women,” said Abbas.
When asked if these two women protested at Shaheen Bagh during the anti-CAA stir, Abbas said no. News18 also reached out to women protesters of Shaheen Bagh to ask if they knew of these two women; no one could identify them.
While it is true that Muslims who live in Shaheen Bagh, Okhla and Nizamuddin joined the BJP, there’s no evidence to suggest that all of them were constructively part of the Shaheen Bagh protests.
In fact, except for one man, Shahzad Ali, none of the others have any known, long-time affiliation to the Shaheen Bagh protests.
“The protests were spontaneous and led by hundreds and hundreds of ordinary women. They had no leader, there was no structured organising team. People from different ideologies may have attended the protest at different times. If one of those hundreds of volunteers joined the BJP today, that in no way means that all of us have had a change of heart. The movement to protect the constitutional values of India will continue,” said Kehkasha, a protester.