For three days, northeast Delhi has been in the grip of armed vigilantes mobilised by Hindutva politicians to attack and terrorise those protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Given the nature of the mobs and their leaders, the violence quickly lost any pretence of a ‘political’ motive and descended into crude, generalised communal violence against Muslims.
The utter chaos and lawlessness which reigned unchecked on the watch of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre – which controls law and order in the national capital – has left at least 21 people dead, including a policeman, and several hundred injured. Ordinary working people – both Hindus and Muslims – have died in the orchestrated mayhem.
There can be no doubt that the ultimatum issued by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra on Sunday for the anti-CAA protestors to clear the streets of northeast Delhi or face dire consequences was the immediate trigger to the violence. But there are also deeper underlying factors – institutional and political – which helped push Delhi into the abyss.
The first and most obvious factor is the partisanship of the Delhi Police, encouraged and sustained in large part by the support of the ruling BJP at the Centre. From university campuses to the streets, it is now a matter of habit for the Delhi Police to stand by and watch mobs whose political agenda squares with the BJP run amok.
Ordinary citizens, particularly Muslims – the primary targets of the ruling party’s polarising politics around the question of citizenship – can expect no succour from such partisan law enforcers. As in other recent episodes of violence in Delhi, here too, instead of protecting the vulnerable, the police could be seen backing the Hindutva mobs in their attacks Muslims. The fact that the Delhi high court’s intervention was needed before the police agreed to ferry victims of the violence to safety tells its own appalling story.
The continued dereliction of duty without fear of punitive action has created a situation that is alarming for any civilised nation. The images flooding television screens for the past few nights, along with reports by journalists from numerous organisations who had all been subject to the mob’s vicious attacks, brought back stark memories of 1984 – the last time Delhi was in the throes of such organised communal violence – or 2002, when the state of Gujarat under Narendra Modi burned for weeks.
Second, the role of BJP and Sangh parivar leaders throughout this period has been reprehensible. Apart from Kapil Mishra, party legislators and functionaries have either openly inciting anti-Muslim hatred or helped demonise the anti-CAA protests – which have all been peaceful – as anti-national. While Union home minister Amit Shah has been missing in action, the junior home minister has now set his sights on the media – demanding action against news platforms whose reports of the violence have proved embarrassing for the government.
Regrettably, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which won a landslide against the BJP in Delhi’s assembly polls last month, has also miserably failed to rise to the occasion. Granted, law and order is not in the state government’s hands. But rather than mark their presence in the embattled parts of the city, AAP leaders appeared to vanish from the scene. It would have been befitting of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to send out his legislators to the strife-torn areas where people were desperately seeking help.
The image of the chief minister alongside his deputy, Manish Sisodia, paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat added further insult to injury. Rather than take a proactive stance, the AAP chose to retreat into the shadows while Delhi was burning.
To be sure, AAP’s retreat pales in significance before the direct culpability of the BJP. Nobody should be under any illusion that the Delhi communal riots of 2020 are not a product of deliberate, attempts to polarise the country on religious grounds. The party leadership and its governments at the Centre and in states like Uttar Pradesh have, directly and indirectly, stoked hatred against Muslims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hosted US President Donald Trump while Delhi burned, finally tweeted a tepid appeal for “peace and harmony” on Wednesday.
Given Delhi’s history, and his own, Modi’s silence for three days tells its own story.