Thirty five years after Delhi was gripped by the most horrific communal riots in the wake of the assassination of a Prime Minister, the same air of paralysing fear and uncertainty has gripped a part of the Capital. The violence in North- East Delhi, that has claimed 39 lives, bears chilling similarities to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the 2002 Gujarat riots as the rule of the mob held sway while the police and administration were mute spectators, and thereby almost complicit in the mayhem. Peaceful protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) began in parts of Delhi in December 2019.
As the Delhi Assembly election campaign gathered steam, incendiary statements became the norm as a Union Minister, an MP and a senior BJP leader spewed venom against the protesters in a bid to polarise the electorate. The genesis of the current riots can be attributed to the hate speeches that culminated in a defeated legislator issuing, in the presence of a top police official, a defiant deadline for removing the anti-CAA protesters who had laid siege to the road beneath the Jaffrabad metro station in a repeat of the Shaheen Bagh protests.
Over three days the mob ruled in North East Delhi localities as shops, places of worship and homes were torched, while the police, who come directly under the Union Home Ministry, looked on even as the central government was busy with an extravagant welcome for US President Donald Trump. For sheer inefficiency, the administration and Delhi Police should have been held accountable and heads should have rolled. After three days of rioting, the National Security Advisor was sent to pacify people and assess the situation.
By then the damage had been done and the death and destruction that ensued have left permanent scars. We also saw a strange reluctance by the ruling government in Delhi to come to the aid of the people affected by the rioting. Was it not the moral duty of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who has just returned to office with a huge mandate from the citizens of Delhi, to pressure the Centre to take action and instil confidence in the people of the riot-hit localities? It took him over three days to even visit the area.
Taking the easy way out by passing the buck to the Centre because law and order is a central subject was not what the people of Delhi, rising above caste and community lines, had voted Kejriwal back to power for. With an Opposition in virtual sleep mode, those who oppose the ruling dispensation’s policies have little hope. It is no surprise then that the only pockets of resistance are from the people themselves, who facing the might of the administrative machinery are sure to be cowed down sooner or later. International opinion that has been critical of the amended citizenship law is routinely rejected as interference in the affairs of India. The national capital being gripped by senseless violence for days on end sends out a clear message ~ hate and destruction are the order of the day.