Shaheen Bagh is not in Bihar!

Shehzad Ali being welcomed into BJP. Where is Shehzad Poonawalla, no one welcoming him?

Clearly, when “news” is manipulated and extensively spread, it can have a certain impact on people’s opinion. But not for too long.

Shaheen Bagh is in news once again and for the wrong reasons. It has been reported that a few key participants in the anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019) held at Shaheen Bagh have joined BJP. Now, it is debatable from several angles as to whether this is real “news” or manipulated, which is being deliberately spread. The same may be said about “news” that Shaheen Bagh protest was planned by BJP. Seriously speaking, it is a little difficult to accept credibility of both these “news”. It may be recalled, senior ladies, with support of thousands of Indians cutting across religious lines, were at the forefront of this demonstration for a considerable period of time. Had Covid-19 not struck, the demonstration may have continued.

There is probably more to “news” being circulated about Shaheen Bagh’s linkage with BJP. Of course, as of now, there is no proof that a few persons who suddenly decided to join BJP were key players and/or participants in the anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh. Whoever has manufactured this “news” is apparently banking on Muslim identity of these new BJP members.

What cannot be missed is the flaw in the claim that Shaheen Bagh demonstration was probably planned by BJP. It is equivalent to stating that key proponent of CAA planned opposition to the same. But this seems a part of a political game. Manipulation of this “news” apparently has been decided by the great popularity of Shaheen Bagh demonstration and the importance gained by it in the eyes of the opponents of CAA, particularly Muslims.

It is possible, forthcoming assembly elections in Bihar have been focussed upon to manufacture “news” of this nature. The last assembly elections there had seen a rise in Muslim MLAs, from 19 to 24. Of these, 12 were from RJD, six Congress, five JD(U) and one from CPI-ML. Two Muslim candidates fielded by BJP had lost. Muslims form roughly 16% of Bihar’s population, with a few areas dominated by them. In this context, should it be assumed that BJP is gambling on its prospects in Bihar by use of a “pro-Muslim” card?

Well, there is no knowing as to what kind of political cards can be played by leaders with only electoral gains in sight. There is another angle to this political game. Let us not forget that recent past has been witness to anti-Muslim riots in parts of Delhi. There have also been reports of students and property at Jamia Millia Islamia being targeted by extremist elements. In addition, communal venom has been raised against Muslims during the Covid-phase. This refers to Tablighi Jamiat members being blamed for spread of coronavirus. Also, reports of false news blaming Muslims for Covid-19 led to certain colonies ban vendors in their areas and so forth.

Clearly, when “news” is manipulated and extensively spread, it can have a certain impact on people’s opinion. But not for too long. After all, people have access not just to one or a few means of communication. Besides, Covid-phase has spelled a lot of tension for people at large. Prospects of their being easily swayed by “news” which doesn’t concern them may be viewed as fairly limited. Yes, Shaheen Bagh is in Delhi and not in Bihar. Also, extensive publicity received by Shaheen Bagh across the country and world for a fairly long period of time cannot be ignored. It dominated headlines in numerous outlets of communication for over three months.

In addition, coverage given to participants in the demonstration and its nature cannot be ignored. There were also reports of political leaders opposing CAA using the opportunity to take stage at Shaheen Bagh and voice their support for the protest. This scribe has not come across any report of pro-CAA activists peacefully addressing participants at Shaheen Bagh.

Chronological linkage of anti-Muslim incidents, mentioned earlier, is too close for anyone to easily believe that Shaheen Bagh demonstration was “planned” by BJP. With respect to a few persons who have chosen to join BJP, it’s their democratic right to take political decisions as it suits their socio-economic interest or whatever reason. Nevertheless, they do not represent even a percentage of participants at Shaheen Bagh. Again, this step has been taken in Delhi and not in Bihar.

The preceding point only suggests that manipulation of “news” and/or manufactured “news” can certainly hit headlines as well as arouse people’s interest for some time. However, there is no guarantee that the same will convince them. Being interested in a certain issue is not the same as being swayed by it to change one’s opinion. Also, at present, prospects of gathering crowds at political rallies are as good as dead because of Covid-phase. This also implies that at present interpersonal communication at the grassroots level has limited reach. So, prospects of manipulating news – linked to it - yielding any political gain in any part of the country may be viewed as practically non-existent. Such “news” may be viewed as a bubble, not worth being considered even a political card!