Bengaluru’s Shivajinagar is typically bustling with activity on a weekday morning, but there was a lull in business on Tuesday as many shops surrounding the Russell Market closed on Monday for a protest rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) organised by the Muslim Jamaats Joint Action Committee.
Road closures were put in place as police expected the crowd to hamper traffic movement on the road leading from Shivajinagar Bus Stand to Russell Market. Similar closures were instituted on the HKP Road. The protesters were joined by senior Congress MLA and ex-minister Zameer Ahmed Khan and Shivajinagar MLA Rizwan Arshad briefly as well.
The organisers reminded those present there that this was the 41st day of protests against the NRC and the CAA, and that they will continue the same until action is taken.
Almost all shops and stores on Chandni Chowk Road, HKP Road, MF Norrona and Broadway Road among others were closed for business. Instead many shopkeepers and traders in the area — big and small — were present with placards in their hands or waving the national flag joining the protests.
Ishar Ahmed, who owns a paan shop in the area, said he is the sole earner of his family and had joined the protests along with the rest of the traders against the “black law” of CAA and the proposed NRC. “When the government lies, people will be forced into streets like this. Is it not true that only one community is being targeted?”
There were a series of speeches criticising the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led central government for “dividing people in the name of religion” instead of focussing on developmental politics.
Subodh Kumar, a migrant from Bihar, who owns a small bag shop in the area, also joined the protests and said he was there as an Indian and not as a Hindu or representing any other religion. He said, “It is not necessary that I am against the BJP but we came to know what happened in Assam. Are all 19 lakh people who were kept out (in Assam) outsiders? If the government is serious about fighting infiltrators, then they should seal the borders properly.” He added, “If not for the government’s hardline decision on this issue, people would be running their businesses as usual and the economy could have benefitted.”
Another protester, Nayeem Ziah, who works as an executive in the health care sector, said, “I am here today taking leave as I want to save the secular fabric of the nation. I don’t want a country that is undemocratic for my children and for me. And this is the time we all shall stand up against tyranny. I don’t expect we will get relief anytime soon and we should be prepared to carry our protests for a long time.”
The speeches from the dais were punctuated by rounds of sloganeering by the organisers and the protesters.
One of the speakers, Dr Vasu HV of the Karnataka Janashakti criticised Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya for his ‘puncturewallah’ speech.
On December 23, Tejasvi while addressing a pro-CAA rally had said, “People of Bengaluru’s IT sector, BT sector, those contributing to the nation’s economy like lawyers, bank employees and ordinary citizens, including auto-rickshaw drivers, have gathered here today. Only the uneducated, illiterate puncture shop wallahs are against it.”
Slamming the MP, Dr Vasu said, “In every corner of this nation, people are fighting to save the Constitution of this country. But the Prime Minister and the BJP leaders are unable to figure out what is happening. Tejasvi Surya says that 'puncturewallahs' are protesting. But there is some truth in what he is saying. They are puncturing the nation and we are fixing that puncture on the country and the humanity of this country. There is no love but only hatred in what Tejasvi says but on the streets here, among the protesters, there is truth and love.”