Mumbai: It was a tale of two rallies – both within miles of each other. One led by volunteers, mostly students and social activists who had descended at Azad Maidan from as far as Jamia Milia, AMU and JNU; and the other by BJP and right-wing cadres at August Kranti Maidan.
While the volunteers had assembled to voice their dissent against the contentious three-pronged citizenship exercise, the right-wing cadres were drumming up support for the legislations and providing a sounding board for the Modi-Shah dispensation.
From the two venues emanated a cacophony of voices. ‘‘This totalitarian government wants to bulldoze dissent, it believes it can do anything. But it is the government's responsibility to uphold, and not subvert the Constitution," pointed out Rajesh Shah, an activist protesting at the spot. He was among the strong contingent from TISS and Mumbai University, which hosted their counterparts from other states.
A common refrain was that the BJP government is a "faceless regime" and the obnoxious laws were targeted "not just against the Muslim community but were detrimental to the entire country."
Azad Maidan’s 'Inquilab Morcha' was a sequel to the first non-political protest organised against the CAA on December 19, when Mumbaikars, including celebs from the film industry, had converged at the historic August Kranti Maidan. The sentiment this time was ‘Kagaz nahi dikhayenge,’ with the message scrawled emphatically on placards.
Among the charged up youngsters was 28-year-old PhD student Ayaz Akbar from JMI, who had come all the way from New Delhi. He had witnessed the December 15 clash between the Delhi Police and the students.
“The government feels it can suppress our voice with force. We need to show them what student power is all about and what impact it can have on the country,” said Akbar. He was among 200 students who had taken the trouble to travel at their own expense to Mumbai.
Echoing Akbar's sentiment was Tabassum Ali, a 25-year-old philosophy student from AMU. She said, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah were blissfully unaware of what India stood for.
“It is clearly mentioned in the Constitution that we are a secular country. Either our prime minister doesn't know what secularism means, or they want to change the Constitution,” remarked Ali.
TISS students have been boycotting classes since December 15, when violence was unleashed on Jamia students.
“We stand in solidarity with the students of Jamia and all the protesters who had to face police atrocities. The government needs to understand that their idea of tearing India apart will not become a reality,” said Namdeo Gurung, a Master's student in social work, TISS.
Former Bombay High Court judge Justice B.G. Kolse-Patil, Congress MP Kumar Ketkar, film world personalities Swara Bhasker, Richa Chaddha, and others were present.
The CAA/NRC supporters also waved the Tricolour and carried banners supporting the new law and raised slogans in support of PM Modi and Shah. Later, Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis addressed the gathering, where he criticised the MVA government for refusing them permission to march from August Kranti Maidan to Lokmanya Tilak statue at Girgaum Chowpatty. The pro-legislation cheerleaders were seen carrying photographs and portraits of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, V D Savarkar, Mahatma Jyotiba Fule, Bharatmata and Shahu Maharaj.