Shehzad, a lawyer and a social commentator, decided to take up politics at a tender age after being affected by the infamous Gujarat riots.
Shehzad volunteered for Congress in his early days, even campaigning door to door for candidates in the municipal, assembly and Lok Sabha elections. Hailing from Pune, in his college days, he became the vice president of the Pune Unit of NSUI, the students’ wing of Congress. A practising advocate in Delhi for the last four or five years, Poonawalla has filed PILs and taken up cases of discrimination, especially injustices against minorities.
Besides taking on social causes and politics, Shehzad also has a flair for writing- he is a columnist and a blogger and a vociferous voice on social media as well. Known for his commentary on socio-economic issues of the country, Shehzad was the youngest Additional Private Secretary to Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.
Here’s an exclusive chat with Shehzad:
Q. What made you interested in politics?
I was just 14 when Nehru and Gandhi’s idea of India came under tremendous assault during the 2002 Gujarat riots. It was then that I decided to join politics and ensure that the India which our forefathers had fought for isn’t converted into a Hindu Pakistan by the RSS and BJP!! It is the mission of my life and my politics to ensure a “RSS Mukt Bharat”.
Q. Of all the parties, why did you decide to join the Congress?
Nehru was, is and will remain my hero! I was deeply influenced by Nehruvian secularism and firmly believe that Congress must follow the path he has shown us. I joined Congress so that I could pursue Nehruvian ideology and ensure ṭhat the idea of India isn’t killed by the ideological children of Godse just like Gandhi ji was murdered by Nathuram.
Q. You are quite active on social media as well. How would you define the role of social media in today’s discourse?
Social media is being used to spread hate and propaganda by RSS against minorities and the political opposition in our country. Cheap smartphones have allowed social media penetration into a large section of our society. Every day, lies are being circulated and many people in the age group of 18-30 (which is the age group that is voting in large numbers and is very impatient and also aspirational ) rely on such propaganda and falsehoods and make their political choices based on such misinformation without fact checking. On the other hand, social media also provides us with an opportunity to convert this very group into our supporters provided we are able to establish a discourse with them and are able to get our act together. Congress’ new in charge of Social Media, Ms Ramya (Divya) seems to be moving in the right direction, something that likes of Digvijaya Singh Ji has been pointing out for a long time now. I hope she is given the right support and feedback so that we can reclaim this space which we have conceded to BJP.
Q. Trolls are especially nasty, how has your experience been considering you belong to a marginalised community?
I am called a Mulla/ Jihadi / anti-national every two hours. My patriotism is questioned even when I tweet inane stuff like a movie review or the lyrics of a song! I don’t let it affect me much. I have seen far worse in life so a few anonymous trolls aren’t going to rattle me. I always try to give it back in the same coin without lowering my standard. These trolls are cowards who hide behind anonymity and abuse! You know the old saying “dogs that bark seldom bite”. It should be noted that these trolls get their political orders, rewards and backing from Modi and RSS. He meets and follows them. The viler you speak, the bigger fan following you get amongst Sanghis. Anyway, I ignore the trolls- they are just sleeper cells. My aim is to go after their political handlers sitting in Nagpur and PMO.
Q. With your appointment as Secretary of Maharashtra Congress, has it affected your activism for civil liberties?
Not at all. I am and will remain an activist first and foremost. I have continued to take up many cases like the Gau Terror /Cow Vigilantism and other cases of discrimination to courts and other authorities. I believe that without being a committed social activist one cannot be a good politician.
Q. Who and what inspires you to go ahead?
Ans- Nehru inspires me the most. He is my role model. I see Nehru in every secular Hindu person. The secular Hindu is at the forefront in the fight to preserve the idea of India as envisioned by Gandhi and Ambedkar. I am also deeply inspired by Maualana Azad and I truly believe that modern, liberal and secular education coupled with rational and scientific thinking is the single most important tool with which we can empower our citizens to fight bigotry and poverty and become a world leader.
Politician/ Activist? – Activist
Twitter/ Facebook? – Facebook
Delhi/Pune? – tough one- Delhi is karm bhoomi & Pune is janm bhoomi
Reading/Writing? – writing
TV/ Newspaper? – Newspaper (frankly both misinform us these days)