Union home minister Amit Shah’s exclusive interview with Network18 Group Editor-in-Chief Rahul Joshi that aired on Monday, has, not unexpectedly, created quite a buzz in political circles, particularly against the backdrop of the ongoing elections in five states and the swirling hijab row. It has also been widely shared on social media, especially by several top leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party.
BC Nagesh, the education minister of BJP-ruled Karnataka, the state where the hijab controversy first erupted, concurred with the union home minister’s statement that he believes all religions must adhere to school dress codes.
“That was exactly our thinking when we passed the order. There should be uniformity and equality. As Amit Shah ji rightly said, we will go by the Constitution,” he told News18.
The event has unfolded over the past few weeks starting December 31 when six girls wearing the headcover protested outside the Women’s Government Pre-University (PU) College in Udupi after the institute denied them entry inside the classroom. Petitions filed against the ban on hijab are sub-judice in the Karnataka High Court, which in an interim order has asked students not to wear any religious clothing until it delivers a verdict.
“It is my personal belief that people of all religions should accept the school’s dress code. And the issue is now in court, and the court is conducting its hearings on the matter. Whatever it decides should be followed by all,” the home minister said in the interview to News18. “Ultimately, it has to be decided whether the country will function on the Constitution or whims. My personal belief only remains until the court makes a decision. And once the court makes a decision, then I should accept it, and everyone should accept it. But, I still personally believe that every student should function according to the dress code and uniform mandated by the school.”
Veteran Congress leader Rashid Alvi too responded to the home minister’s remarks on the hijab controversy. “Amit Shah ji wants uniformity only in school and college dress codes. Why not in the whole country? Who is going to decide whether students should wear hijab to school or not? On the one hand there’s the thinking that everyone should wear it, another is that no one should. Is Amit Shah going to decide this?” said. Alvi. “You are the country’s home minister. If you seek uniformity, please bridge the gap between the poor and the rich in the country. Bring uniformity there. End unemployment, give everyone jobs and bring uniformity there. Bring uniformity in education. But you want the kind of uniformity that is controversial and divisive. That is your nature.”
Reacting to Shah’s statement on the matter in the interview, Karnataka Congress leader Priyank Kharge alleged that the BJP is trying to keep the hijab controversy alive for political gains.
“The matter is sub judice and if the home minister believes the Constitution should be followed and the dress code needs to be there, then he should instruct his government here. The February 10 (court) order has said one thing, the government has interpreted it as another thing, and the principals and institutions have interpreted it in another format. So the entire chaos seems to be happening because the government is not in control of things and they don’t want to do things because this entire controversy is helping them politically,” Kharge told News18.
The fact that the court’s verdict has to be followed by everyone is a foregone conclusion, said noted criminal lawyer and Nationalist Congress Party leader Majeed Memon. “If the home minister had not said this, was the verdict not going to be followed by everyone? So this is something that was unnecessary. And the home minister speaks about terror, etc, when we are in the midst of elections and attributes to political opponents that they have been lenient against acts of terror by closing cases against some suspects who are charged with terrorism and therefore they are said to be aiding terror…Whenever cases are withdrawn, they are done so with the permission of courts…Therefore, to attribute such motives and such allegations that political opponents are trying to promote terrorism are without any merits,” Memon told News18.
The BJP has also tried to link the SP with the kin of one of the convicts in the 2008 Ahmedabad serial blasts case; a court recently awarded the death penalty to 38 people in the matter.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav spoke out on the issue following the home minister’s interview.
“Why should I explain? The agencies in the country should probe because I sit in the same Lok Sabha where the Prime Minister and other important ministers sit. And this is because the public this time has pushed the BJP into a corner, and that is why, as the elections progress, you will see more and more ridiculous comments from BJP leaders,” the SP chief told news agency ANI.
In the interview, Amit Shah had accused the SP and BSP of withdrawing terror cases, suggesting that it was appeasement politics.
“What do SP and BSP have to say about security in the country? They will have to answer the public. After withdrawing UAPA and POTA, who are they helping? And why? For their vote banks? Do other people not have the right to vote? Those who are the victims don’t have a vote? This is the feeling in the whole of Uttar Pradesh,” the home minister said.
Among the top leaders who reacted to Amit Shah’s remarks in the News18 interview was Congress’s UP incharge Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. The home minister had responded on the matter of Congress’s Punjab chief ministerial face Charanjit Singh Channi recently saying, in Priyanka’s presence, that he would not allow any ‘bhaiyya’ (a reference to people from UP and Bihar) to form a government in the state.
“Channi ji was excited and upbeat. He was talking in reference to Modi ji (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) and AAP leaders. They attack me personally because they know I have been fighting in UP for the past three years. When they have no political attack left, they make personal attacks,” Priyanka told News18.
Shah in the interview had lashed out at the rival party over Channi’s comment.
“I don’t think this statement is okay for a healthy society. India is a nation. Whoever wants to go to Gujarat, UP, or Punjab to earn their livelihood or career can go. I don’t support this kind of statement or politics for votes. Priyanka Gandhi was expressing her approval of this statement on the stage. In two days, in UP, she said the party is fighting for the pride of UP. I have never seen such a contradiction within two days,” he said.
In the context of the UP polls, Shah said in the interview that Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) remains a player, adding that it will get Jatav and Muslim votes.
“The BSP has maintained its relevance. I believe they will get votes. I don’t know how much it will convert into seats but it will get votes,” he said.
When asked about this, BSP leader Satish Chandra Mishra said he agreed to a certain extent with the home minister’s statement.
“But I just want to make a small correction. Not just the Jatav vote…all of the rest in the Dalit community are totally with the BSP,” he said to News18.
BSP chief Mayawati too later echoed this view. “He (Amit Shah) is right in his assessment but even then I want to tell him that not just Muslims and Dalits but all communities are voting for us. We will form a full majority government," she said.
President of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti alleged that the BJP is trying to divide people of all religions and regions to gain political mileage. Referring to the home minister’s interview, she said that the people of J&K are not happy with the delimitation process and there is a need to first satisfy the people of all regions and then proceed for elections in the erstwhile state. Shah had said that elections in J&K will be held soon after the delimitation process is completed.
“The delimitation exercise is about to get over. After this, whatever will be the reasonable timeframe – about six-eight months – the elections will be held,” he said during the interview. “There should be no confusion about that.”