New Delhi: It’s been one year since 53 people were killed and hundreds of homes and shops damaged or destroyed in communal violence in Delhi. The victims were overwhelmingly Muslim.
How would professional investigators solve a crime like this? By first identifying the men and women who took part in the violence, and then investigating who mobilised and instigated them to do what they did. They start by looking at the dots and painstakingly connecting them to see where the trail leads. But instead of doing that, the Delhi Police have spent the past ten months chasing down an imaginary conspiracy.
In their eagerness to argue that the riots were the product of the protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the police say the supposed conspiracy goes back to provocative statements and smaller acts of violence that took place in December 2019, as part of that movement.
But despite their best efforts, the Delhi Police have not been able to link the activists they have arrested as key conspirators – Umar Khalid, Safoora Zargar, Devangana Kalita, Sharjeel Imam, Ishrat Jahan, Khalid Saifi, Natasha Narwal, Meeran Haider, Asif Tanha and Shifa-Ur-Rahman – to any actual act of violence.
The Wire has spent the past few months doing what the police have refused to do.
We have used as evidence not the unsubstantiated statements of anonymous witnesses, questionable confessions and incredible leaps of logic which the Delhi Police have relied on for their charge sheet, but videos, social media posts and statements made by these Hindutva activists and leaders themselves. And the picture that emerges is truly damning.
We started with the small dots that were visible – on videos posted by the rioters themselves – and worked back to see who they were, how they were radicalised, and how they ended up on the streets with guns, swords, bricks and iron rods.
As we connected the dots, it became clear that this was not a riot planned by just one BJP leader who made just one inflammatory speech but had been worked on by many others since the second week of December, 2019. And having created this foundry of hatred in which mainstream political leaders intersect with the so-called fringe and their dedicated media ecosystem, it is continuously being put to use to keep the communal pot boiling.
The chronology we have established makes the nature of this actual conspiracy very clear. The faces and characters we will show you have been deliberately hidden from public view by the Delhi Police’s refusal to investigate them or even speak about them.
Today, that silence ends.
What the police chose not to see
In the last week of February 2020, Delhi was shaken by the worst communal violence the capital had seen since the massacre of Sikhs in November 1984.
This time around, the spread and scale was smaller, and it was Muslims who bore the brunt of the violence. But 2020 was similar to 1984 in two respects. First, the police made no effort to protect the victims. And second, leaders and activists associated with the ruling establishment played a major role in spreading hatred and instigating violence.
In order to deflect attention from the clearly targeted nature of the violence, and to hide its own obvious failures, the Delhi Police blames the communal violence on Muslim and progressive activists who were involved in peaceful protests against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The police in Delhi, incidentally, reports to the Union home ministry run by BJP leader Amit Shah.
Over the past year, dozens of street-level rioters have been arrested. But the police insist the actual conspiracy to trigger violence was the handiwork of those opposed to the CAA. More than a dozen activists have been charged under the country’s anti-terrorism law. In a voluminous chargesheet, the police claim that these activists had plotted to trigger riots during the visit to India of US President Donald Trump with the aim of defaming the Narendra Modi government in the eyes of the world and then overthrowing it by force.
But does the police case really add up? Or have they set up a straw man in order to cover up the real conspiracy that is staring everyone in the face?
In one of their chargesheets, they claim, incredibly, that the conspiracy to use Donald Trump’s visit to trigger riots was taken on January 8, 2020, even though neither India or the United States had announced his visit by that date.
Even as they come up with improbable scenarios against the anti-CAA activists, the police have deliberately chosen not to investigate an influential group of men and women who had – since the third week of December 2019 – been openly advocating the use of violence to end the peaceful anti-CAA protests.
This group was influential because they had ties to the ruling establishment. Their wider motive was to end the protests which were a source of international embarrassment for the Modi government and teach a lesson to all those who had taken part in them, especially Muslims and students. And their consistent message in the weeks running up to the communal violence was that there would be a big price to pay for opposing the government’s Hindutva agenda.
The reason the police have refused to investigate this group is because they are all part of the same Hindutva eco-system which stretches from openly criminal elements – on what is sometimes wrongly called the ‘fringe’ – all the way to BJP politicians and ministers in the Modi government.
The fact that BJP leader Kapil Mishra made an inflammatory speech at Maujpur on the afternoon of February 23 is well known and the police have not just refused to investigate his role but conveniently exonerated him. But this is the same leader who, as early as December 19, had advocated violence against the anti-CAA protestors, and has been associated with other individuals who kept making these threats during the period before the actual outbreak of violence on February 23.
When The Wire asked Mishra about his slogans calling for Jamia, JNU and AMU students to be shot, he first denied saying this. But when shown his own videos, he said it was not a big deal to say “goli maaro salon ko” and that this reference to shooting was just an inconsequential rhyme.
In similar vein, Mishra has denied that his statement at Maujpur on February 23 was intended to threaten violence.
Last year, the former Delhi Police Commissioner Ajai Raj Sharma told The Wire that had he been in charge he would have arrested Kapil Mishra and suspended the senior police officer who stood silently by as Mishra made his inflammatory remarks.
However, in their zeal to clear the name of the BJP leaders and the Hindutva groups who were openly mobilising themselves to unleash violence, police investigators have not just tamely accepted Mishra’s claims of peaceful intent at face value but ignored the huge amount of evidence in the public domain which points to their conspiracy.
In a shocking video released two months ago by Ragini Tiwari, who was filmed taking part in the Delhi Riots of February 2020, the militant Hindutva leader threatens to unleash violence on the protesting farmers near Delhi just as she had done on the anti-CAA protests at Maujpur:
“If the government doesn’t rid us of the farmers movement, doesn’t rid Delhi of the farmers then Ragini Tiwari will recreate Jaffrabad and whatever follows will be a responsibility of the Central and state government; of Delhi Police. Jai Shri Ram. O nationalists of India, join Ragini Tiwari on the 17th. We will anyway deal with the farmers movement. I will anyway empty it. Jai Jagat Janani Janki. Jai Poonauradham. Jai Shri Ram. Vande Mataram. If the conspiracy under the guise of the farmers’ movement is not removed by the 17th…16th, then Ragini Tiwari will remove it on 17th. Jai Shri Ram.”
This is exactly what Kapil Mishra had threatened on February 23, 2020 and what the Hindutva leaders like Ragini Tiwari implemented on the ground at Maujpur and other places in north-east Delhi. And now she speaks of “recreating Jafrabad” elsewhere.
In this series, The Wire will introduce you to several Hindutva activists and leaders who played a prominent role in spreading hate, mobilising mobs and then instigating violence. Some of them we have been able to identify, while the identity of the others is not known to us. Activists like Ragini Tiwari, have even repeatedly boasted of their role on video. But what is astonishing is that the police have made no attempt to prosecute them for their role in unleashing violence which eventually took the lives of 53 innocent people, including a policeman.
In Part 1 of our series, we look at the role of two such characters, Deepak Singh Hindu and Ankit Tiwari.
Deepak Singh Hindu, founder of the extremist ‘Hindu Force’ and associated with Bajrang Dal
On the morning of February 23, 2020 – the same day Kapil Mishra made his notorious speech at Maujpur chowk on north east Delhi, Deepak Singh Hindu took to Facebook to mobilise crowds there:
“I am fighting this war alone but today I need your participation in this religious war. The whole of Delhi is being turned into Shaheen Bagh. And now Jafrabad in north-east Delhi has been made into a Shaheen Bagh. Thousands of people with jihadi mindset have come on to roads, But instead of [us] watching this like hijdas, it is better to die as men and I, Deepak Singh Hindu, will take this war to its conclusion. Please come to Maujpur Chowk at 2:30 Pm because if Deepak Singh Hindu goes there alone, it will be a moment fo you to die of shame. My appeal to you is that you reach Maujpur Chowk in large numbers.
Note my number and call. [Mentions number] I will reach there with my supporters. However, if I get your support, my strength will multiply a thousand times.”
Let’s go over what exactly he said on the morning of the day that the violence started. Remember, no violence had begun at the time that he recorded this incendiary video.
Deepak Singh Hindu calls on his viewers to assemble at Maujpur chowk at 2:30 pm. Why 2:30 pm? Did he know Kapil Mishra was also planning to be there at the same time? What is the hidden hand that had fixed this time and place for the mobilisation of a crowd that was being exhorted to launch violence? Why has the Delhi Police not bothered to ask this basic question?
The police claim the activists blocked the road near Maujpur Chowk as part of their conspiracy to trigger violence. So was Deepak Singh Hindu part of this conspiracy? Had he not given his call, would there still have been violence? Why has the police not charged him?
Ironically, the Delhi Police case truly collapses when we see how Deepak Singh Hindu and other activists had been planning to unleash violence even before the anti-CAA protestors blocked the Jafrabad metro station at Maujpur Chowk on February 22, 2020. The Delhi Police say this was the trigger for the riots and that the anti-CAA activists were responsible for what happened.
But on January 23, 2020, a whole month before there was any roadblock at the metro station, Deepak Singh Hindu warned of the violence he was planning to unleash on peaceful protesters:
“I am someone who has gone alone to Shaheen Bagh, JNU and Jamia and roared amidst crowds of thousands. If you [Muslims] were patriots, then you would not have partitioned this country in the name of religion. You are not patriots, you swine. You are only traitors, traitors, traitors, and traitors will be beaten with shoes, I am telling you this in writing and this is what will happen.”
The BJP likes to suggest that people like Deepak Singh Hindu are some sort of fringe element. Yet, the fact remains that he was actually echoing what senior party leaders like Parvesh Varma and Anurag Thakur – who is a minister in the Modi government – had been saying in the Delhi assembly elections campaign at the end of January.
The way the Hindutva eco-system works is that there is continuous interaction between these extremist elements – online of course but also at protests and on the streets. Equally, this so-called ‘fringe’ regularly interacts with the supposedly respectable ‘mainstream’ of the BJP.
But Deepak Singh Hindu is only one of the many Hindutva activists whose role in the Delhi violence the police has wilfully ignored. There are many more like him.
Ankit Tiwari, BJP volunteer and RSS member from Kondli, Delhi
If the BJP’s Kapil Mishra served as the political face of the real conspiracy and Deepak Singh Hindu helped the Hindutva organisations to mobilise a violent mob at Maujpur and other places in north-east Delhi, Ankit Tiwari was a willing footsoldier who not only can be seen engaging in violence but is happy to openly boast on social media about having killed Muslims.
The Wire looked into Tiwari’s social media profiles, which are full of hatred for Muslims. He also openly advertises his association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh,
Tiwari can be seen in multiple videos openly inciting and indulging in violence.
Curiously, while over a dozen anti-CAA activists have been in jail for several months now, Ankit Tiwari is free to roam the streets of Delhi despite the evidence he himself has provided on his social media profiles.
Alarmingly, he continues to post vitriolic videos threatening violence.
In one video that he released on Instagram on November 12, 2020, Ankit Tiwari says he plans to join the Army in order to kill ‘katuas’, or Muslims in Kashmir.
Last October and November, an undercover reporter impersonated a woman in order to chat with Tiwari on Instagram.
In these chats, he claims to have killed many Muslims.
Ankit Tiwari says he did this in Maujpur one night. “We were all nationalist friends, with ammunition,” he says.
He also claimed that some members of the RSS, Bajrang Dal and ABVP activists organised themselves into joint teams. Using coded language to signify violence against Muslims, he said, “We distributed prasad properly.”
In another Instagram story, Tiwari claims to have killed many “mullahs” and “katuas”
As with Deepak Singh Hindu, Tiwari too is not a lone wolf but part of a violent ecosystem of activists.
In one of his chats, he says that he knows ‘Rambhakt’ Gopal, the activist who opened fire on Jamia students who were protesting against the CAA on January 30, 2020, three weeks before the large-scale violence was initiated.
Tiwari also told us that he took part in an RSS-organised rally in Connaught Place on December 20, 2019, where Kapil Mishra raised slogans in support of CAA-NRC. And he posted a video of himself at an election rally in Delhi where Amit Shah was speaking.
More chillingly, he boasts that he and his associates are planning another round of riots and that all the preparations have been made. He also claims that whenever the National Register of Citizens is implemented in Delhi, there will be another round of riots.
In the Part 2 of The Wire’s series on the real conspiracy behind the Delhi Riots of 2020, we will introduce you to four more characters from the capital’s Hindutva network. And we will show you how these characters, and the poison they spew, form part of the ruling establishment’s political project for not just Delhi but India as a whole.