Home Minster Amit Shah recently gave an interview, to the most honest journalist, Navika Kumar, on her channel TimesNow, whose headline read ‘Frankly Speaking’. The interview, spanning 50 minutes, can be easily condensed into a 20-minute one, as Shah and Navika Kumar only reiterated things that had already been questioned, dodged, and given up.
With this piece, I aim to ask the unanswered questions, and perhaps even answer some of the questions posed by Amit Shah (the powerful questioning the powerless is the trending fashion anyway).
Disclaimer: The piece is a minute-by-minute breakdown of up to 20 minutes, after which the conversation became stagnant. Also, since the interview was in Hindi, some of the words are paraphrased but never without the context.
1:05 Post the age-old graphics of the show, Navika begins with, ‘Thank you very much for joining us.’ Up until here, the interview was point-blank, straight forward and was a sign of brilliant journalism.
1:43 Navika questions Shah about the widespread protests happening around the country, to which Shah answered,
“I will tell you. There are 2 main reasons for the protests.
1. Some opposition parties are deliberately trying to make it a Hindu Muslim issue when it is not.
2. The very same parties are diverting people’s minds and hence inciting violence.”
Navika, no surprise, doesn’t cut him off here. He goes into detail: “I want to get into the detail of this. CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) does not take away anyone’s citizenship, instead, it aims at providing citizenships to persecuted minorities in three countries, namely Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.”
He went on to say, “People who have been suffering religious persecution in these countries have witnessed their women and children being raped and murdered and hence they have come here seeking refuge. It is only our duty to give them citizenship.”
I think, we too, have to get into the detail of this. He seems clever, delegitimising the protestors using the opposition, but it is, perhaps, a move to derail the protests and cover up the reasons for it. The moment you condense a protest to fit into your narrative, you are not only letting your people down, but also trying to dilute their voice.
Shah also neglected the protests of the North-east and their concerns, conveniently feeding off the Hindu-Muslim divide.
Coming to the religious persecution of the minorities in the three countries, Shah is correct, and perhaps one of the few times he is, that those who are seeking refuge on humanitarian grounds need shelter. But Sir, how conveniently have you disregarded other minorities who have been facing the same religious persecution in those very countries?
Probably your humanity doesn’t include the Ahmadiyyas who have been suffering religious persecution in Pakistan, where they aren’t considered Muslims and are denied the right to read the Quran and perform Azan (call to prayer). According to a report in 2018, 400 Ahmadi Muslims were killed following the introduction of the Anti-Ahmadiyya laws. Doesn’t this amount to religious persecution?
The Home Minister, however, has a counter-argument, which is that he is only following the Nehru-Liyakat Pact and hence, Congress cannot question this. Again, selectively choosing an age-old policy to suit your narrative is tweaking democracy, don’t you think?
Also, it is not only Congress that is opposing this but a huge chunk of Indians.
Shah goes on to wonder, “I don’t understand what there is (in the Act) against the minorities and Muslims in India.” To be honest, he never has understood the concern of minorities.
3:50 When Navika brings up the protests happening in 40 universities, Shah blatantly corrects her saying it is only 32 universities out of 250-odd universities around the country.
Well, looks like the Home Minister needs a fact-checker too. As of December 18, there were a total of 51 colleges and universities which are protesting against him and the bill he has brought.
With that logic, only 37% of India voted for you. Does that make you illegitimate government?
Also, disregarding the number and brushing it off like it won’t matter is not a sign of a progressive government Mr. Home Minister, instead, it is a sign of the presence of an ignorant, self-absorbed, and anarchical government.
4:32 Shah asked, “You throw stones, you take petrol from vehicles and burn buses, you create chaos and you don’t want police to take action?” He further asked, “If all of them are students, who threw stones from the University, and why?”
The answer, Sir, is in the statement issued by Delhi Police a day before you gave this interview, where they clearly state that all of the 10 people who were arrested weren’t students of Jamia Milia Islamia, and that all 10 have criminal cases pending against them.
Here, however, one might argue that the protests have been hijacked and, to an extent, it might have, but that shouldn’t take away the right to protest, nor should it be used as a ‘trump card‘ to defame the students who, as of today, have no evidence against them.
When Navika cross-questioned him, one of those rare times, that whether barging into university premises without prior permission is acceptable, Shah brushed it off with a counter-question, “But the stones came from the University right?”
In another interview with Aaj Tak, he said, “As a Home Minister, my primary concern is maintaining peace and not seeking permission.”
Looks like the Home Minister doesn’t understand the law, or the host doesn’t know to cross-question him. Either way, a prettily painted picture is presented to us.
5:30 When Shah challenged Navika to point out anything in the bill against minorities, Navika asked a valid question, which is also one of the reasons why India has been protesting. “The concern is, however, that when the NRC will be applied across India, people who don’t possess the required documents will be detained, and non-Muslims will be granted citizenship through CAA, while the Muslims will be exempted.”
As a reply to this, Mr. Shah politely asked, “So, who brought the bill in the first place? Did BJP bring it? No, it was the Congress. They brought it, and rightly so. I agree with them on this. Tell me, which country in the world doesn’t have an NRC?’
An interview, structurally, is when a person or a group asks you a question and you answer them. Questioning the question or deflecting the question isn’t the answer. Congress might have brought NRC, no one is denying it. In fact, it is you and your party which claims that Congress destroyed India for 70 years. But, the question in line is, what will those who don’t possess the documents do? Any answer? We need answers.
Regarding the countries which don’t have NRC, I will resort to your technique and ask you this: tell me which country’s home minister is a murder-accused?
7:12 Shah then said, “I have a challenge for all of them who are opposing. Can you tell openly to the people of this nation that you will allow all the Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh? If you can’t say it, then don’t oppose it.”
So, it is a criterion, is it? You say one thing and you get a right to oppose another thing? Is this how you want the country to function? Do these criteria apply to all or are there any exceptions?
7:40 Navika asked a pointed question, “What about Aadhar, Voter ID, Pan card? Do they not qualify as a document of citizenship?”
To which he replied, “No, it doesn’t qualify and Aadhar will definitely not. Aadhar.. (he stammers) has a different purpose altogether. NRC should be done, and what is the issue with NRC anyway? I want to stress again that no Muslim of this nation will have to undergo any sort of injustice. I will never let it happen.”
Aadhar has a different purpose altogether? What is that purpose? It is very kind of the Home Minister to reiterate that Muslims are not in danger in this country. However, a report by Human Rights Watch, in February 2019, found that at least 44 people, out of which 36 were Muslims, were killed on religious grounds between May 2015 and December 2018. Has your government formulated a law against lynching yet? When are you going to address religious persecution in this country?
In the aftermath of the rape of an eight-year-old in Kathua, protests were observed on the streets in support of the eight accused by the leaders of the then-state government, Chaudhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, who belonged to the BJP.
Former Civil aviation Minister, Jayant Sinha told the BBC, flaunted actually, that he funded the legal fees of the men who were given the death penalty for killing a Muslim cattle trader.
I guess Shah is right. There hasn’t been injustice done to minorities, especially women from minority communities. It is what it is then?
13:40 “Kashmir is peaceful. People are living peacefully. There is no problem,” Shah claimed.
Although, I would like to listen to the locals, if only the internet was functioning there.
15:00 When Shah justified that Assam and the rest of the North-East are continuing to return to normalcy, Navika cut him off and said, “But four people died.” To which, the Home Minister of India casually said, “Haan woh thheek hai” (that’s okay), and continued, “But 850 people died when protest happened during Congress rule.”
So, is this what you are playing at then? A game where you compare every repercussion with those of the Congress-led governments? Didn’t you claim you were better than them? Or were you lying then?
For Amit Shah, from the interviews, it seems like Congress is opposing his government when, in reality, Congress is far from being the opposition. It is the students, the people of this nation who are opposing.
Regarding the situation in the North-East, if everything is peaceful, why were 5,000 paramilitary forces airlifted to the North-East? Why were the internet services shut down in 10 districts of Assam and Tripura entirely?
His paranoia with Congress continued (in the interview) for the next 30 minutes without putting across a new perspective or a strong. No surprise though, as most of his political career has been in that direction.
What the Home Minister, and many of us, need to understand is that despite the reason, any protest needs space in a democracy where it can be carried out without it being delegitimised. Listen, debate, and sort it out.
Remember, we are a democracy. Since we cannot question our Home Minister directly, I resorted to this. I don’t expect answers to be given but I hope the questions are remembered.