As the police tried to catch him, the Dalit leader escaped, jumping barricades and entering one house after another

Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad on Friday gave Delhi police a run for their money, outwitting them into organising an anti-citizenship act congregation in front of Jama Masjid and playing hide and seek when they tried to grab him.

Azad appeared dramatically before the mosque at the end of Friday prayers around 1.30pm. As the police tried to catch him, the Dalit leader escaped from right under their noses, jumping barricades and entering one house after another.

He resurfaced around 4pm and sat on a dharna that was continuing at 9.30pm. This time the police kept their hands off him.

Several parts of Delhi witnessed protests on Friday that were by and large peaceful, except for some demonstrators burning a private car near Delhi Gate. The police used water cannons and batons to disperse the crowd, which retaliated with stones.

The police had earlier denied Azad permission for a march from the Jama Masjid to Jantar Mantar, 8km away. However, the protest organisers cleverly used the ruse of Friday prayers at the Jama Masjid to inflate their numbers.

Word had been spread by mouth, and Azad had slipped in a WhatsApp alert to followers overnight that the Friday prayers would unfurl into a street protest.

From the morning, the police kept a tight vigil against Azad reaching the spot, putting up multiple checkpoints. Two drones watched from the sky.

Immediately after namaz, the crowd started swelling. Many of them held the national flag, anti-government placards, and posters of Babasaheb Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi and the Constitution.

Some of them sat on the footsteps shouting slogans, some showered flowers on the protesters while some others distributed food packs and served tea. Suddenly, Azad turned up.

Noticing him, the police tried to detain him but the crowd and his supporters resisted while Azad fled with the help of residents who hid him at their homes.

“He proved too good for the police. They couldn’t catch him. His entry was as dramatic as his exit,” a resident said.

Bhim Army spokesperson Kush Ambedkarwadi said: “The police tried but could not detain him. The public took him to their homes, where he spent sometime. He came back and began a dharna at 4pm.”

There was no podium, no speeches, no microphones. The crowd split into small groups and chanted slogans or sang songs. Many stood silently; others kept clicking images.

Some of the protesters did try to make it to Jantar Mantar. Stopped at Delhi Gate 2km from the Jama Masjid, they clashed with the police and torched a car. Police spokesperson M.S. Randhawa said a joint commissioner had been injured.

Many people had gathered at Jantar Mantar too but were chased away. They marched towards India Gate and Central Park in Connaught Place, carrying the national flag and “Save Constitution” banners.

Azad said no Bhim Army member was involved in the violence. “Those engaged in violence do not belong to us. Our peaceful protest is going on at Jama Masjid,” he said. “Those resorting to violence belong to the RSS. Some are doing it to sabotage our movement.”

He tweeted: “I’m sitting on the footsteps of Jama Masjid to say that we will not allow Modiji to murder the Constitution. This country belongs to all of us and we will fight till the end to protect it.”

The administration had closed the Jama Masjid and Lal Qila Metro stations, forcing protest participants to walk from Delhi Gate station before that too was shut.

“We are here for a peaceful protest that will go on till the unconstitutional Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens are abandoned,” said Mohammad Wasim, who had come from Okhla in southeast Delhi.

Wasim said that as far as he knew, the protest had no organisers — people had learnt about it from friends and relatives and come. “Now the movement will not stop. It is self-driven,” he said.

Mohammad Aslam, an interior decorator, said he had taken time off from work for the past five days to join the protests. He said the NRC and the amended citizenship law would hurt every community.

“An impression has been created that Hindus will get protection. But everybody will be affected. People from all communities are gradually joining the protests. This is not for the cause of Muslims. You see, the Bhim Army has joined today,” Aslam said.

But some were despondent. Mohammad Alam, a cook with a restaurant near Jama Masjid, sat in front of a tea stall. His eatery was closed because of the agitation.

“I’m worried: what will the cut-off date be for the NRC? What documents will be sought? The poor may not have documents, what will happen to us?” Alam said.

He said restaurants and roadside food stalls had by and large been shut since the protests began.

Mohammad Nirale, a fruit vendor, said he sold fruits worth Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 every day till six months ago. His daily sales now barely touch Rs 10,000.

A perfume seller, who did not wish to be identified, asked this correspondent: “I have not received a single customer since morning. Nobody is happy. Why are the media not showing the problems of the people?”

The police carried out a flag march in Seelampur, northeast district, which had witnessed violence on Sunday. Delhi Mahila Congress chief and former president Pranab Mukherjee’s daughter Sharmistha Mukherjee and some other party members were detained near Union home minister Amit Shah’s residence during a protest.

A silent protest was held near the Jamia Millia Islamia, which had witnessed a police crackdown on students on Sunday.

Courtesy: The Telegraph