New Delhi: Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia on Thursday extended support to the women protesting at Shaheen Bagh against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens.
Speaking at a conclave organised by News18 network, Sisodia said he stands with the people of Shaheen Bagh, where the sit-in agitation entered its 40th day, in what could signal a major shift of stand for the Aam Aadmi Party two weeks ahead of the assembly elections in the Capital.
Earlier in the day, Delhi chief minister and AAP president Arvind Kejriwal also described the CAA as “an issue” and said his party does not support the divisive exercise or the proposed NRC. He said the party had voted against the CAA in Parliament, and he has opposed it in every rally and interview.
Although the AAP had voted against the bill, it had till now tried to steer clear of the issue, remaining relatively silent on the massive protests in Shaheen Bagh, which has emerged as the symbol of resistance against the CAA, or the violence against students at Jamia Millia Islamia in December and Jawaharlal Nehru University in the first week of January.
None of the party’s senior leaders visited any of the protest sites, and only Amanatullah Khan, the AAP MLA in Okhla, the constituency under which both Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Nagar fall, was visible on the ground.
Instead, the party had chosen to focus entirely on its performance in the last five years for the poll campaign, and repeatedly said that the election would be fought on local issues, despite signs of religious polarisation in the wake of the CAA and the ensuing protests.
Now the comments by the top two in AAP could either be a strategic move, or it could also reflect the understanding within the party that it cannot duck the question on the protests any longer, when the two other parties in the fray – BJP and Congress – have made their positions very clear.
Similar to the protests at Shaheen Bagh, there are seven more areas in Delhi where women have begun an indefinite agitation against the policies of the Narendra Modi government.
Muslims account for nearly 13 per cent of the voters in Delhi and a continued cautious stand, observers said, could have seen the AAP lose out on Muslim votes. Any split in the Muslim vote could mean advantage BJP.
Sisodia, in the interview, also said it was not his government’s job to clear Shaheen Bagh of protesters, and opening of the Kalindi Kunj road does not fall under his jurisdiction. He then pivoted back to what he described would be crucial in these polls: electricity, road connectivity, health and education.
The BJP was quick to jump on the issue as party spokesperson Sambit Patra claimed that Kejriwal and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had orchestrated the protests at Shaheen Bagh, where he alleged slogans against the unity of India were raised.
The party’s Delhi unit chief Manoj Tiwari, too claimed that Congress and AAP were working together to spread lies about the BJP government at the Centre. He further asserted that the women and children protesting at Shaheen Bagh should be removed as Delhi wants smooth traffic.