Kejriwal puts ball in BJP’s court over Shaheen Bagh and Sharjeel Imam
Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Monday accused the Centre’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of engaging in “dirty politics” and deliberately not acting on the road blockade at Shaheen Bagh, hitting back at the BJP leadership that has been targeting his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) over inconvenience faced by commuters due to the sit-in since December 15.
In the run-up to the February 8 assembly elections, Kejriwal, the national convener of the AAP, also questioned Union home minister Amit Shah as to why Sharjeel Imam, a research scholar who has been booked for sedition for alleged inflammatory speeches, has not been arrested yet.
Law-and-order in the national capital is entirely in the domain of the Centre, Kejriwal said, daring BJP leaders to visit the site, which has become the epicentre of anti-CAA protests in the national capital, and hold a dialogue with the agitators.
“If they [the Centre] are saying that they need permission from me, I am giving them permission. Now, I challenge them to open the road in one hour. They are busy doing press conference and engaging in dirty politics over the issue,” he said.
“Schoolchildren are being inconvenienced. Passing of ambulances is an issue. The journey that used to be 40 minutes long is now taking two-three hours...But I can give you this in writing, the BJP does not want to open the road in Shaheen Bagh. The route will remain closed till February 8 (election day), and it will open on February 9,” Kejriwal added.
His remarks came hours after Union home minister Amit Shah, and law and telecommunications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad stepped up their criticism of the AAP in the high-voltage election campaign in the city-state.
In a press conference on Monday afternoon, Prasad said: “The Shaheen Bagh protest has emerged as a textbook case of how few hundred people are trying to suppress the silent majority…It is offering a platform to people who talk about dividing India in the garb of protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. This, in reality, is an act of rebellion against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
Prasad also pointed out that tens of thousands of people were “distressed because they cannot go to office and shops”, and children were not able to go to schools due to the road blockade.
Protesters in Shaheen Bagh have set up a stage on the carriageway towards Noida from Sarita Vihar, while the police have closed all traffic on the Kalindi Kunj bridge. Traffic jams are spilling over to Ashram Chowk and parts of Mathura Road, and the blockade has led to additional load on other Noida-Delhi connections, including Nizamuddin bridge and DND flyway.
Top AAP leaders have maintained a distance from the protest site, citing law and order issues. Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said last week that he stood with the protesters.
In a public gathering on Monday, home minister Shah dared Kejriwal to visit the site. “I want to ask Kejriwal whether he is in favour of apprehending Sharjeel Imam or not? Whether you are with the people of Shaheen Bagh or not, please tell the people of Delhi… You people (AAP leaders) say that you are with Shaheen Bagh. If you have the guts then go and sit with them? And let Delhi decide who to vote for,” he added.
Kejriwal hit back on Twitter. “Sharjeel Imam spoke about separating Assam from India. It is a serious statement. And this statement of yours (Shah) is highly political. You are the Union home minister. It is your duty to ensure that he is arrested immediately. It has been days since he (Imam) gave the speech. Why have you not arrested him so far? What’s stopping you – the same dirty politics?”
Imam, a resident to the Kako town in Bihar, is pursuing doctorate degree from the Centre for Historical Studies in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Over the last two days, Imam, one of the co-organisers of the Shaheen Bagh protests, has been booked under charges of sedition and causing disharmony between communities, and provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act by police departments in at least five states for his speeches.
JNU’s chief security officer has submitted a report to the university administration, prompting the registrar to issue a notice asking Imam to meet the proctorial committee by February 3 and “explain his position”.
The Delhi Police, which registered a case of sedition against Imam on Saturday, were conducting raids in Mumbai, Patna and Delhi to arrest him.