Two clear patterns have emerged in the days leading up to the first anniversary of the national capital’s worst anti-Muslim pogrom in decades.
While one side – mostly North-East Delhi residents who had to bear the brunt of the hate campaign and a large section of civil society – mourns the deaths and unprecedented scale of property loss, the other side – Hindutva activists and leaders – has taken this opportunity to amplify its multi-layered anti-minority campaign.
Of the 53 people (according to the Delhi Police) killed in the violence last year, three-fourths were Muslim. The bulk of properties damaged or destroyed belonged to Muslims. Yet, the confidence and aggression that the Hindutva groups – which are largely considered the prime perpetrators of the violence – have shown through the last one year in Delhi indicates the unparalleled impunity they enjoy under the Narendra Modi government.
Civil society groups have been organising peace meetings in the riot-affected regions, holding events to showcase the brutal tragedy that the riot victims had to go through during the three days in which Hindutva groups carried out an arguably organised attack on anti-CAA protestors in Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods of North-East Delhi, and raising serious concerns about the Delhi Police’s allegedly botched-up probe into the riots.
Contrast this with how the Hindutva forces are seizing the moment once again to perpetuate hate against minority groups.
Over the past week, these groups have organised book discussions, documentary screenings and seminars, all of which seek to advance the idea that the anti-CAA protests culminated in the communal riots. By doing so, the Hindu Right has once again made a concerted attempt to cleverly escape all accountability, and at the same time, hold the Muslim community – which was leading the peaceful protests against the controversial citizenship law – singularly responsible for the violence. And its leaders and supporters have used this campaign to proudly justify the violence again.
A fine example would be Kapil Mishra, the Delhi BJP leader whose provocative speech in the presence of complicit police officials stoked the first incidents of communal violence in the Maujpur-Jaffrabad area. Soon after the riots, former Delhi Police commissioner Ajai Raj Sharma told The Wire that Mishra should have been arrested for what he said and the senior police officer who stood next to him should have been suspended. Of course, nothing of the sort has happened under the current dispensation and one year later, Mishra continues to make provocative statements.
In an interview with The Wire, he claims that there was nothing wrong in the slogan “Goli maro saalon ko (Shoot the bastards)” that he raised against the students of Jamia, Aligarh Muslim University and JNU in the run up to the riots, and added that he was “proud” of what he did on February 23, 2020. “If it happens like that again, I will do that again,” he emphasised. This wasn’t the first time he said so. He has reiterated this statement at a public event and in other interviews too.
“If I had to, I’d redo what I did on February 23. I have no regrets, besides the fact that we could not save Intelligence Bureau officer Ankit Sharma and constable Ratan Lal,” he told the Indian Express.
What does this signal? As far as political tactics go, Mishra’s selective approach towards the victims of the riots appears to be a message for Hindutva activists that they have nothing to fear even if they were directly complicit in the violence. The confidence with which he made his statement makes it apparent that his statements may re-energise communal tensions in Delhi, even as victims are gradually coming to terms with their losses.
This very impunity to perpetuate hate came across rather clearly in the interview he gave to The Wire. Riddled with propaganda and fake and misleading narratives, his responses were a mixed bag of falsities and half-truths – all probably to keep Delhi in the grip of communal fear.
For instance, at one point in the interview, he blames the Delhi government for tasking only the Delhi Waqf Board with relief work in Delhi. His intention was obvious – that AAP was only bothered about Muslim victims and that no one was even asking about the fate of Hindu victims. His narrative, of course, is a false one.
The Delhi government has disbursed over Rs 26 crore as compensation to at least 2,200 riot victims from both communities since the riots broke out in February 2020. The disbursement is being directly monitored by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
In what has now become an archetypal example of right-wing whataboutery, Mishra, on being asked about his “goli maro salon ko” slogan and his polarising politics said the fault lay with those who raised slogans like “Bharat tere tukde honge” or “Afzal hum sharminda hai, tere qaatil zinda hai”.
While these slogans were allegedly raised by unknown persons in JNU in 2016, they had nothing to do with the anti-CAA protest. In fact, no one has ever accused the protestors at Shaheen Bagh of using these slogans. Even the allegations about these slogans being raised in JNU are yet to be proven.
When not in a position to answer some of the questions clearly, Mishra attempted to divert attention towards the coverage of the Delhi riots by The Wire‘s anchor and senior editor Arfa Khanum Sherwani, who is incidentally a Muslim and has been the target of Hindutva activists for years now.
Mishra claims that Sherwani interviewed Tahir Hussain, the former AAP councillor who was arrested last year on charges of rioting and conspiracy, “in a mosque”. According to Mishra, Sherwani “sheltered” Hussain – a blatant falsehood – whereas all she did was to interview him, as other journalists sought to do, when allegations against him first surfaced; and there was no mosque involved.
Again, Mishra sought to paint the recent murder of one Rinku Sharma in Delhi as a communal killing but stopped short when it was pointed out that the Delhi Police had already said that the incident bore no communal colour. Mishra’s dilemma came across rather well when he justifies the Delhi Police actions unequivocally on the arrests of anti-CAA protestors for being possible “conspirators” of the Delhi violence, but became uncomfortable when told that the same police force had declared Rinku Sharma’s killing as non-communal.
Mishra and other BJP leaders frequently accuse independent media of ‘fake news’, even as they actively promote disinformation in their own “ecosystem”. Perhaps their hope is that such a strategy may confuse people and delegitimise the media space.
That is why when faced with fact-based questions, Mishra appears to squirm. On multiple questions about his associations with rabid, far-right activists like Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, a self-proclaimed disciple of Mahatma Gandhi’s killer Naturam Godse, who openly called for the genocide of Muslims and advocates that the Indian constitution be rewritten by Hindus, Mishra had no answer. In fact, he attempted to dissociate from Saraswati but couldn’t when close links between the two were established.
First, he denied being there. Then, said he must learn Yati’s ‘reasons’ & ‘feelings’ behind this incitement before condemning it! pic.twitter.com/0DfXhYKnHf
— Siddharth (@svaradarajan) February 24, 2021
Sometimes, simple questions are hard to answer, as Mishra may have experienced. When asked whether he holds Hindutva workers responsible for the killings of Muslim persons during the riots, he categorically says, “No”. But he had no answer when asked who killed them, other than to suggest that the Muslims who were killed were not ‘victims’. “Hitler died in World War Two,” said Mishra in a bizarre analogy. “Does that mean he was a ‘victim’.”
The Wire reporters ask BJP’s top Delhi face Kapil Mishra if he believes Hindutva groups played a role in the 2020 Riots. “No”, he says.
So who killed 40 Muslims?
Mishra’s atrocious answer: “Someone dies, that doesn’t mean he’s a victim. Hitler died in WW2. Was he a victim?” pic.twitter.com/6oDRBOU1JC
— Siddharth (@svaradarajan) February 24, 2021
As events over the last week show, the Sangh parivar, exactly like Mishra indicated in the interview, evidently is looking to keep the communal flare lit in Delhi. At a time when civil society is consistently trying to heal the wounds left by the riots and ensure some semblance of justice to the victims, the BJP appears to be choosing its own path of political convenience.