By Prem Shankar Jha
Spring has come to Delhi. The smog of winter has lifted; the skies are blue once more and the first blossoms are blooming in the gardens.
There is nothing U.S. President Donald Trump saw during his short visit to the capital that would have given him even an inkling of the cauldron of violence that was bubbling under parts of the city.
By the night of Feb. 27, 38 human beings had been killed; 38 families plunged into an endless tunnel of sorrow, their already precarious lives blighted by the worst outbreak of communal rioting, arson, and murder that Delhi has experienced since the anti-Sikh riots that followed the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984.
All but five are Muslims.
Unlike the 1984 riots, which had at least begun out of shock, and a spontaneous outpouring of grief and anger at the murder of a prime minister, there is nothing spontaneous about the conflagration in northeast Delhi.
What the city is experiencing is a planned onslaught on Muslims who have been demonstrating against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and its fearsome sibling, the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Taken together these acts threaten to disenfranchise, and open to deportation, almost any Muslim who cannot provide documentary or other acceptable proof that they are Indian citizens.
The attack on Muslims has been initiated by Kapil Mishra, an ambitious young politician of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who just lost an election to the Delhi state assembly from a constituency he won five years earlier as a candidate of the secular Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party).
He is now seeking both to consolidate his position within the BJP and exact revenge upon the Muslim voters he holds responsible for his defeat. The peaceful protesters against the CAA and the NRC, who were mainly, but by no means all, Muslims, were a convenient target.
Mishra began his onslaught not on Jan. 24, as has been reported in the media, but on Jan. 23. That day, he sent out a spate of tweets asserting he would not allow another Shaheen Bagh — the site of the original, and still ongoing, anti-CAA protest organized by Muslim women — to happen in his part of Delhi and urged his followers to assemble in large numbers at the protest site the next morning.
The very next day, he gave an ultimatum to the police to “clear the roads in Jaffrabad and Chand Bagh”, two areas of northeast Delhi where roads were blocked by protesters, within three days, or face the consequences.
But the lumpen army he assembled through his tweets did not wait for the ultimatum to expire.
On Sunday, a large threatening crowd of young men, carrying stones, heavy sticks and iron rods, assembled at one of the sites in a locality named Maujpur, and began pelting stones at the demonstrators.
The first concerted attack on Muslims followed within hours. By the next afternoon, five people had been killed and 78 injured in the clashes that followed.
Explicit orders or tacit signals?
It would seem that at least on that first day, and in some, if not all, places, the police did try to prevent the violence, as a senior police officer suffered serious head injuries and was rushed to a hospital.
Since then, though, the police have been strangely inactive.
Scores of newspaper reports and hundreds of videos circulating on social media show lines of police standing idly by while shops owned by Muslims are burned and Muslim youth are shot or beaten to death.
They did nothing as a flourishing rubber tires market is reduced to ashes, a mosque is torched, and roadside stalls, trolley carts, and cycle rickshaws, which could have allowed the victims to start earning a living again, are hacked to pieces.
Nor was the police entirely neutral. Several videos show them picking up stones to hurl at crowds in front of them, and smashing street corner video cameras set up by the Delhi administration to curb crimes, especially against women.
What has made the police abandon their duty to uphold the law and start breaking it instead? When it has not hesitated to level charges of sedition against scores of demonstrators who opposed the NRC and the CAA, why has it not arrested Kapil Mishra for delivering hate speeches and inciting his lumpen followers to take the law into their own hands?
The short answer is the directives it has received, possibly explicitly, but definitely through tacit signals, from senior leaders in the government, beginning with Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.
In a 97-minute long public speech he gave in Delhi on Dec. 22 when the Shaheen Bagh protest was at its height, Modi accused the Congress and its other political rivals of surreptitiously fueling opposition to the two enactments, and urged “the people” to go to the aid of the embattled police to remove the impediments to their implementation.
As to what, or more precisely who, the impediments were, he had said in an earlier speech. “You can recognize them by the clothes they wear”, were the prime minister’s words, a reference to the distinctive dressing of Indian Muslims.
On Dec. 22, Modi’s impassioned plea was greeted by rapturous cries from the audience asking him for permission to carry out his wishes.
Five weeks later, while addressing an election rally before the Delhi state assembly elections, Anurag Thakur, a junior minister in Modi’s government, exhorted a frenzied audience in Delhi to “shoot dead all traitors to the nation”.
Unwilling to leave the identity of the “traitors” to their imagination, he said, “They stretch in a long line from [Pakistan’s Prime Minister] Imran Khan to [Congress leader] Rahul Gandhi, and [Delhi Chief Minister] Arvind Kejriwal.”
Embedded in this ‘line’ were the Muslims, the Marxists, and ‘pseudo-secularists’ who were waving the Indian flag, and protesting peacefully against the CAA and the NRC.
Not only was Thakur not arrested but, five days later, Modi rewarded him by giving him the honor of replying in parliament to the president’s eve of Republic Day address.
The message was not lost upon his party. Within days, two other BJP candidates in Delhi spewed hate against Muslims in their pre-election speeches. The police, once more, did nothing.
On Feb. 26, as Delhi burned, the Modi government gave a final endorsement to mob rule in Delhi.
While hearing a plea by civil rights activists, Justice S Muralidharan of the Delhi High Court gave the capital’s police a day to register cases against the BJP legislators who had given hate speeches against Muslims.
At 11 p.m. the same night, he was transferred to another high court — that of Punjab and Haryana — without being given the 14 days normally given to judges to record their views on cases they are hearing before their transfer.
His caseload was taken over by none other than the chief justice of the Delhi High Court, whose first move was to extend to a month the time given to the government to decide the action it would take against the erring legislators.
The people have got the message: India’s judiciary has also succumbed to the brute power of the government and is no longer the third pillar of democracy.
Mob rule has come to stay in India. Anadolu Agency