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Delhi Riots: Death Toll Rises to 38; Sonia Gandhi Calls Centre, Delhi Govt 'Mute Spectators'

She also reiterated the party's demand for the removal of Union home minister Amit Shah.

New Delhi: At least 38 people have now lost their lives in violence that has broken out parts of the national capital and over 200 have been injured. The Delhi Police has filed 18 FIRs and arrested 106 people in connection with the violence.

Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi, along with former prime minister Manmohan Singh, and other party leaders, submitted a memorandum to President Kovind at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday. After submitting the memorandum, Sonia Gandhi told reporters that the Centre and Delhi government were “mute spectators” to the violence.

“We handed over the demands to President Kovind in the memorandum. The Centre and Delhi government were mute spectators to the violence which has claimed several lives. Businesses have also fallen prey to looting. President said he will take cognisance of our demands; we feel fairly satisfied,” she said. She also reiterated the party’s demand for the removal of Union home minister Amit Shah.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh told reporters that “Violence is a matter of national shame.”

“We called upon President to suggest to him that what has happened in the last four days in Delhi is a matter of great concern and a matter of national shame in which at least 34 people have died and 200 people are injured, it is a reflection of the total failure of the central government,” Singh said.

The US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs urged “all parties to maintain peace”.

The national capital has been in the throes of violence since Sunday evening after BJP leader Kapil Mishra demanded that anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protesters clear the sit-in demonstrations in Jaffrabad and Chandbagh. Over 150 people have been injured and several violence-hit areas have also been victim to arson and vandalism.

Forty-eight hours after violence broke out in parts of the national capital, Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally broke his silence on the Delhi riots on Wednesday.

Reports also said that the body of a man who works with the Intelligence Bureau was found in a drain in North East Delhi’s Chandbagh.

In two tweets on Wednesday, Modi said he had reviewed the situation and that the security agencies were doing their job. He did not acknowledge the numerous reports and criticism – including from the Supreme Court and Delhi high court – that the police had not been doing their job.

The prime minister also made broad claims about peace and harmony, without mentioning that several leaders from his party, the BJP, have been accused of instigating Hindutva mobs.

It is not unusual for the prime minister to take his time with making public remarks when minorities are at the receiving end of violence. When Kashmiris were being targeted after the Pulwama terrorist attack, Modi waited for at least 40 such cases to be reported before saying anything at all.

The US and Russia on Wednesday also issued advisories to their citizens, in view of the continued violence in Delhi, asking them to exercise caution. The US Embassy in India issued a security alert, advising American citizens to monitor local media outlets for updates on demonstrations, road and metro closures, and possible curfews and avoid locations where heavy traffic or road closures or protests are expected.

Russia, too, has asked its citizens to be careful, avoid large gatherings and violence-hit areas — Jaffrabad, Maujpur and Bhajanpura.

After the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed grave concern over recent incidents of violence in Delhi, an MEA spokesperson, in a statement on Thursday, said, “We have seen comments made by USCIRF, sections of the media and a few individuals regarding recent incidents of violence in Delhi. These are factually inaccurate and misleading, and appear to be aimed at politicising the issue. Our law enforcement agencies are working on the ground to prevent violence and ensure restoration of confidence and normalcy. Senior representatives of the Government have been involved in that process. The Prime Minister has publicly appealed for peace and brotherhood. We would urge that irresponsible comments are not made at this sensitive time.”

On Wednesday evening, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, along with deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia and AAP leader Gopal Rai, visited riot-affected Shiv Vihar in Northeast Delhi.

His visit came hours after the Delhi Police on Wednesday morning used water cannons to disperse students from Jawaharlal Nehru University, members of the Alumni Association of Jamia Millia Islamia (AAJMI) and Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC) who had gathered outside Kejriwal’s residence.

The students, who had assembled outside Kejriwal’s house around midnight, were demanding a meeting with the chief minister and wanted to submit a charter of demands over the violence in the capital to him. The students later alleged that they were detained by the police and taken to nearby Civil Lines police station.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court pulled up the Delhi Police for its handling of the ongoing violence in the capital while deferring the hearing on a plea to shift the Shaheen Bagh protesters. Justice K.M. Joseph while hearing the petition also slammed the “lack of professionalism” in the police force.

A notification effecting the transfer of Delhi high court Justice S. Muralidhar to the Punjab and Haryana high court came late in the evening on Wednesday, hours after the judge expressed “anguish” over the Delhi Police’s failure to register FIRs against BJP leaders for hate speeches.

Also read: Delhi Riots: AAP Criticised for Focusing on Optics; Women’s Delegation Meets Kejriwal

Kejriwal on Wednesday also said that despite all efforts, the police had been unable to control the situation. “Army (should) be called in and curfew imposed in rest of affected areas immediately,” the AAP chief tweeted and said that he would also write to home minister Amit Shah in this regard.

National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval, however, told NDTV that there were enough forces on the ground and no one needed to fear. “People were doubting the capabilities and intentions of Delhi Police. This needs to addressed. People need to trust the man in uniform,” Doval said.

Doval, who visited areas affected by the violence, like Seelampur, Jaffrabad, Maujpur and Gokulpuri Chowk to review the law and order situation and meet police officials, late in the night on Tuesday, February 25, said, “no law-abiding citizen would be harmed anyway by anyone”.

“A few criminals do things like this (spread violence)…Police are here and doing their work… Inshallah yahan par bilkul aman hoga. (God willing, there will be complete peace here),” Doval said speaking to reporters.

He later briefed home minister Amit Shah on the issue.

The Delhi high court has directed the police to respond by 12:30 pm on Wednesday to a plea seeking the lodging of FIRs and arrests of those involved in the violence that occurred in parts of Delhi.

Also read: Delhi Riots: Give Injured Muslims Safe Passage, HC Directs Police in Late Night Order

A bench of Justices S. Muralidhar and Talwant Singh said a senior-level police officer, who is aware of the facts, should be present before it at 12:30 pm with instructions. The court said that the police did not need its direction to take action in relation to the violence and police should take suo motu action as “this is very important”.

The matter was mentioned for urgent hearing before Justice Muralidhar’s bench by senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for human rights activist Harsh Mander.

Hours before, in an urgent sitting that ended at 1:42 am on Wednesday morning, the Delhi high court had ordered the Delhi Police to immediately escort injured persons from Mustafabad to Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital for treatment. The order, by a bench comprising of Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice A.J. Bhambhan, directed the police to ensure the safe passage of the injured to hospitals after hospital authorities had earlier in the evening expressed their predicament after they failed to secure the support of the police for the injured patients.

In view of the ensuing violence, private and government schools in violence-affected areas will also be closed on Wednesday, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia announced on Tuesday. CBSE has also postponed the Class 10 and Class 12 exams in north east Delhi scheduled for Wednesday.

Student bodies have also said that they will stage a protest march from Ramlila Maidan to Parliament on March 3 against the Citizenship Amendment Act and to condemn the communal violence in northeast Delhi.

The Young India Coordination Committee, comprising of student bodies, also urged the Union home minister Amit Shah and the Delhi Police to take action to control the violence.

They also demanded the arrest of BJP leader Kapil Mishra for inciting violence. Mishra, who led a pro-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) rally at the Maujpur Chowk on Sunday, has been accused of delivering a “provocative” speech at the event.

(With inputs from PTI)

You can read The Wire‘s full coverage of the Delhi riots here.