The ongoing violence in Delhi show that despite our history being scattered with riots at a nauseating frequency, we seem to repeat the same mistakes, again and again.
Make no mistake: the violence that is underway in parts of the national capital Delhi is a sordid reflection of a collective failure of different sections of society. The Delhi Police has failed, the political class has failed, and we the citizens have failed.
There are many who suspect the timing of the violence as it coincided with the visit of United States President Donald Trump to Delhi, and theories about the perpetrators are aplenty. The fact is that at the moment it’s anybody’s guess. It will take an inquiry into the violence and rioting to ascertain the real culprits — and, sadly, when it comes to identifying and punishing rioters, there is much to be desired.
A recent spate of incidents, all occurring since opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) began, exposes the collective failure mentioned above. The ongoing violence in North East Delhi, and other parts of the capital, appears to be an extension of this.
The Delhi Police, perhaps India’s premium police force, has cut a sorry figure. In the past few months it has been criticised for its use of excessive action (as was seen in Jamia Millia Islamia in December), and for its inaction (as was seen in Jawaharlal Nehru University in January). Various accounts of police failure have emerged over the past few days. If at some places, such as Mustafabad, the police were mute spectators to arson and violence, in others, they refused to help journalists who were being threatened by mobs. In a video the police are seen beating and hurling abuses at injured men at Shahdara. The Delhi Police has rubbished news reports that a lack of manpower is what has led to the violence escalating. This is nice to know, but obviously, here it is the lack of intent that appears to be the problem.
No sooner did news about the riots come than political parties began to pass the buck.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) were quick to blame the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the violence. Throughout the Delhi election campaign Kejriwal remained vague about his stand of the CAA. This would have been a political move aimed at not upsetting a section of voters — but his continued silence on it shows that the astute politician in Kejriwal has taken over the activist-leader in him. His act of offering prayers at Rajghat was high on symbolism, but more is expected from the CM. The AAP has also not refrained by fishing in muddy waters, as is evident in this misinforming tweet by AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan who alludes that the gun-wielding protester in Jaffrabad has ties with the BJP.
The BJP has stuck to its practise of condoning hate-mongers with a near radio silence from the party leadership. This was seen a few weeks back when the national party refused to take action against Anurag Thakur and Pravesh Verma for their disturbing statements during the Delhi election campaign. One was mistaken if one thought that the drubbing it received at the hustings forced the BJP to rethink its strategy. BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s speech on February 23 at Maujpur, where he gave an ultimatum to the police to clear anti-CAA protesters, is attributed as the lighted matchstick thrown on powder keg. On February 25, videos surfaced on social media of BJP leader and Laxmi Nagar MLA Abhey Verma shouting provocative slogans, ones similar to what Thakur had said a few weeks back.
The ongoing violence shows that we refuse to learn from history. Some observers are comparing it to the 1984 anti-Sikh violence in Delhi, while others are to the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. Does it remind anyone of the 1983 Nellie massacre or the 1989 Bhagalpur violence or the many smaller riots across India? The point is, despite our history being scattered with riots at a nauseating frequency, we seem to repeat the same mistakes, again and again.
In all this darkness there are glimmers of hope. A report said how Muslims in a few localities in Laxmi Nagar, who feared for their lives, were reassured by their Hindu and Sikh neighbours. Hopefully, in the days to come more such reports will emerge.
The second is from a section of the media fraternity — the young and courageous reporters, women and men alike, who braved threatening mobs and an indolent police force to report the news. Their commitment, braving great personal harm and risks, deserves kudos.
In 2011, then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a stern message to Pakistan about nurturing terrorists, said: “You can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only bite your neighbour.” If the BJP condones communal incidents of any nature, it is most likely to derail the Narendra Modi government’s focus of ushering in a ‘New India’. Since AAP leaders take inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, they should remember his thoughts: “Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.” Finally, we as citizens must not forget what Martin Luther King Jr said: “…We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”For more Opinion pieces, click here.