Are Umar Khalid, Safoora Zargar, Sharjeel Imam being groomed as netas by their opponents?

It is impossible for millions of law-abiding, nation-loving Indians to mentally rend asunder the image of this young man from the slogans of "Bharat tere tukde hongey/inshallah, inshallah" or "Bharat tere barbaadi tak/jung chalegi, jung chalegi" reverberating on the JNU campus on the night of 9 February, 2016. Or of him organising a tribute to Afzal Guru, who was hanged for his role in the 2001 Parliament attack.

As for this young woman, she was at the forefront of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests which immediately led to the Delhi riots. The police charge sheet also accuses her of incitement and conspiracy in the riots.

Another man stood on stage calmly talking about mobilising millions of Muslims at Bengal’s sensitive Chicken’s Neck stretch to cut the North East off from the rest of India.

Umar Khalid, Safoora Zargar and Sharjeel Imam have all been arrested. The two men are in jail, while the woman is out on bail.

They have grave charges against them which could keep them in prison for long enough to leave a permanent mark, but not ones that would keep them inside forever.

At some point, they will step out free. They will emerge much bigger in status than they are now. They are already heroes for the many adversaries of Hindutva, and time in jail usually amplifies that.

It cannot be that the drivers of the Hindutva engine have not foreseen or calculated this. They know with their lives how victimhood makes leaders larger than they would otherwise be. It is improbable that they acted rashly, out of vengeance or spite, to throw them in jail. This regime usually does not allow emotions to disrupt a larger design. It is foolish to believe that the police that report to it work in ideal conditions and in a political vacuum.

That begs the question: If Umar, Safoora and Sharjeel become political leaders in the future, who gains the most?

Umar can window-dress his speeches with Mahatma Gandhi references as much as he wishes, it cannot hide the innermost chambers of his radical Muslim identity politics. Muslim campus leaders like Umar, Sharjeel and Shehla Rashid have projected themselves as communists to acquire the academic veneer of ‘progressiveness’, though their ‘un-Left’, Islamist side keeps peeping out. Shehla eventually dropped all pretence of secularism and went into a Twitter meltdown blaming ‘liberals’ for not allowing Muslims to lead the anti-CAA protests.

So, we are looking at the possibility of three leaders in Indian electoral politics in their 40s, heroes to some, but Islamists riding the far-Left, anti-Hindutva bandwagon to vast swathes of Indians.

They will polarise far more than mainstream Muslim leaders do, pushing the floating vote of many centrist Hindu fence-sitters into the BJP’s lap. They can never be a Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Farooq Abdullah or Mohammad Salim. They are more likely to be Asaduddin Owaisi 2.0, minus his intellect and a certain nationalism rooted in his Muslim identity politics. The likes of Umar, Safoora and Sharjeel will forever be the extremist fringe, galvanising Hindu votes.

Besides, they will cut into Muslim and far-Left votes of the Congress and other regional parties, further weakening the already crumbling mainstream Opposition to the BJP.

Lastly, their very serious police records can always be used as an invisible leash by those in power. Their movements nationally and globally will be restricted and monitored by agencies.

One of the most chilling prospects in politics is to be groomed as your opponent’s delight.



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