Reporting out of Gujarat in 2012, a textile trader, the friend of a friend who had tasked him with helping me find people and stories on the ground, finally worked up the gumption to relate to me one of his own. But he still spoke in whispers and half statements. “Some traders have received substantial orders for burquas and skull caps” he said.
When I wanted further information, he pointed me to a particular meeting of the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in one provincial town asking me to check the demographic profile of the town and would say nothing further.
Soon thereafter I saw a report coming out of Madhya Pradesh, which was going to elections in 2013 about the local BJP man buying loads of the garments in time for a public meeting organised by his party in a particular town. The reporter had receipts and bills to prove the BJP was dressing up its party workers in these clothes and trying to influence their detractors into believing that Muslims loved Modi and the BJP so much that they were attending his public rallies in hordes.
So when last week West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is leading the protests in her state against the Citizenship Amendment Act, mentioned in passing that a lot of skull caps were up for sale in some towns of her state, I thought the modus operandi was once again being used to people BJP rallies in neighbouring Jharkhand with more party workers pretending to be Muslim at his election rallies.
But then five BJP workers dressed in skull caps and lungis were caught by Murshidabad police hurling stones at trains in the wake of the citizenship protests in West Bengal. I realised that BJP had moved from some harmless pranks to far more sinister designs.
The Prime Minister’s claim of being able to identify protesters by their clothes fell neatly in context and in place. It would appear that this emperor without clothes is willing to go to any extent to demonise Muslims.
That should be obvious from how students at Aligarh
Muslim University and Jamia Milia Islamia were singledout by cops the police in Delhi and in Uttar Pradesh, injured , shot and killed even when they were not even protesting or were busy studying in libraries and college premises.
Young lawyer Anas Tanwir told me before the protests had begun in right earnest, “Everything this government does is anti-Muslim. Every policy of Modi is meant to terrorise Muslims. Except for Demonetisation and GST, which were secular but still went horribly wrong.”
The manner in which police were unleashed in states ruled by the BJP against Muslim protestors convinced me of that ( in case I did not believe it already). But what must now have come as an unpleasant shock to both Modi and Amit Shah is that all the Assamese of all religions have opposed the CAA and the National Register of Citizens - they do not care about Banglsdeshi Hindus being given refuge in the state; their culture is more important to them than their religion.
But even beyond Assam and its cultural concerns, it must be very unpleasant for Modi and Shah to acknowledge that protests against the CAA and NRC have not been confined to Muslims or to Muslim majority campuses. It has now gone beyond even campuses and general universities to civil society bringing out people of all religions from all walks of life onto the streets and uniting them against the government in a way not seen in a very long time.
The India Against Corruption movement was clearly fuelled by the RSS which used Anna Hazare as a sort of Gandhian face to convince the masses. But I remember the movement found no traction in Bombay -IAC volunteers had to go to railway stations and bus stops and beg people to come to the ground where Hazare was putting up a show of fasting. But one hard question from one reporter to Hazare about why he did not find resonance in his own home state was enough to drive him off stage and the movement soon fizzled out thereafter.
That has not been the case with the anti-CAA movement. It is a faceless one. Lakhs of people swarmed the August Kranti Maidan In Mumbai on Thursday and they were there of their own volition – there was no mobilisation except voluntary ones on social media. Since then there have been more demonstrations in other parts of the country and it is very telling that most states not ruled by the BJP have seen the police conduct a fine job of managing the demonstrations.
But it is also heartening now to see so many Hindu girls donning burquas and bindis and challenging Modi to identify them by their attire. Many Hindu men with beards have been going around with skull caps and posing similar questions to Modi.
In this modern day and age, barring a few orthodox families in all religions, it is impossible to identify anybody by their clothes which, moreover, have become unisex and gender-neutral as well.
Modi himself prefers the Nehru jacket which does not make him a Nehruvian and those churidars are originally a garment favoured by the Muslim Nawabs of this country. If one were to identify people by their clothes, then Hindus would have to wear unstitched garments - even Hindu kings and queens of yore just draped yards of cloth as dhotis or sarees. Blouses too were unstitched and angavastras covered the chests of Hindu men. The stitched garment and the tailor was brought to India by its Islamic rulers and now we are mostly western in our attire.
The BJP's sinister clothing designs have been amply exposed – both the boys and girls at AMU and JMI were Jeans clad as those at August Kranti Maidan or Town Hall in Bangalore.
Clothes do not make the man or woman, as Modi should well know. Else his Gucci shoes and Bvlgari glasses would have told a completely different story of a more sophisticated and a less boorish man.