Arvind Kejriwal at a protest against tariff hike at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. (Express photo by Ravi Kanojia/ Archive)
Dear Mr. Arvind Kejriwal,
Congratulations on your stunning victory. It sure has come against an unprecedented polarising election campaign that the national capital has ever seen. It is admirable how you remained focused on issues of -- education, health, sanitation, power and clean governance -- despite the BJP's best efforts to drag you into their divisive politics.
For me, however, the parallels between what you faced in your campaign and what the protesting women at Shaheen Bagh are facing are unmistakable. Read in Malayalam
While you were called a “terrorist” and an “anti-national”, Shaheen Bagh, a predominantly Muslim locality in your city-state that is blocking a road in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens, was no less demonised, if not more. It has been called Pakistan, Delhi voters were told the protesters were sponsored, and that they would rape their mothers and sisters.
Arvind Kejriwal at a protest rally on Lokpal Bill at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi (Express photo by Ravi Kanojia/ Archive)
But like you, Shaheen Bagh remained focused and refused to be cowed down by sustained vilification by the BJP and a section of the media. It refused to speak the language of its detractors or react to the bullets shot at them or at a Jamia Millia Islamia student. Instead, it continues its protest peacefully, serving the infamous biryani, with art, poetry and flowers.
Though you voted against the CAA in Parliament, you chose not to challenge the controversial law in this election. Credit is due to these protesters for validating your bijli-paani model of politics even when you avoided mentioning Shaheen Bagh in your rallies and interviews, even referring to the road blockade as a distraction. Mocking the Home Minister, you said you would have gotten the road vacated in two hours.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal sleeps next to his Wagon R car as he sits on dharna demanding action against police personnel for alleged dereliction of duty near Rail Bhawan in New Delhi. (Express Photo by Amit Mehra/ Archive)
In fact, even as you refused to engage with Shaheen Bagh, did you realise that you and Shaheen Bagh have so much in common?
Your activism that catapulted you to political stardom resembles what women at Shaheen Bagh are standing for -- clean politics, transparency in public life, political accountability and a pro-poor government. You -- an RTI-activist-turned-politician who has won the prestigious Magsaysay award –- are as Shaheen Baghi (rebel) as those women are.
There is a lasting image of you from a cold night of January in 2014, where you are sleeping under a quilt by the side of your wagon R on the Delhi streets in what was a security nightmare ahead of the Republic Day that year. As the Delhi Chief Minister, you were protesting against the police for refusing to cooperate with the law minister in a raid. Another popular image, this one from 2018, is of you and your colleagues sprawled on a sofa while on a dharna outside the Lieutenant Governor’s office.
Another popular image, this one from 2018, is of you and your colleagues sprawled on a sofa while on a dharna outside the Lieutenant Governor’s office. (Express Photo)
Isn't Shaheen Bagh exercising the same right to protest that you had and still have? When Shaheen Bagh says kaghaz nahin dikhaenge, aren't you reminded of your spirited agitations against the Congress government, one of them in 2012, when you had launched a bijli-paani satyagraha in Delhi, exhorting people not to pay their bills?
Remember, it is the Congress, and not the AAP, that has taken an unequivocal stand against CAA and NRC. A few of its big leaders have visited the protest site. But Shaheen Bagh ensured that it did not turn the Delhi elections into a triangular contest that could have meant a much better show for the BJP.
On February 11, however, it was your MLA of Okhla, where Shaheen Bagh falls, who won with the second-highest margin. Political pundits say Muslims across Delhi have voted en masse for you. I say this even as Shaheen Bagh and its Muslims insist they are tired of being treated as a vote bank and become dehumanised in the process. Their fight, as they relentlessly underline, is above vote politics.
You may have been trying to cultivate the image of an administrator now, but can you deny that your political career was birthed by a protest movement against corruption? Don't you, your party and your government also stand for a secular, progressive, and inclusive India -- much like these Shaheen Bagh women.
"Even as you refused to engage with Shaheen Bagh, did you realise that you and Shaheen Bagh have so much in common?"
Now that the elections are done and dusted, don't you think you should pay them a visit?
No, Shaheen Bagh does not want any political party to come calling. They don’t want their protest to be politicised either. All it wants is that it should be acknowledged and not discredited. And you, sir, should go to them, show support to their resistance, and have a dialogue -- as their CM, as a fellow Dilliwallah, as a fellow countryman. In fact, you can also recite Hanuman Chalisa there, and Shaheen Bagh will be happy to join in. You may have missed it but the place holds inter-faith prayers often and is particularly fond of Mahatma Gandhi’s bhajans.
Besides, you owe your victory to Shaheen Bagh no less. Inhone bhi ghazab kar diya hai.