The attack on student leader Umar Khalid outside Delhi’s Constitution Club on Monday and the recovery of a revolver from the spot raises serious concerns about security arrangements in the Capital two days ahead of Independence Day.

The Constitution Club is located in Delhi’s high-security Lutyens zone. It is around 1 km from Parliament and in close proximity to several other high-security buildings, including Rashtrapati Bhavan and the North and South Blocks, which hold the offices of the key ministries.

This area is under close surveillance round the year, and under especially high security around Independence Day and Republic Day. The level of security here is so high that the Delhi Police shuts down office buildings in the vicinity 36 hours or longer before these two events.

On August 15, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Old Delhi. The event will involve several layers of security, of which the Delhi Police constitutes the outermost ring. With August 15 barely two days away, around one-fourth of the total strength of the Delhi Police, or 20,000 police personnel, is currently deployed to secure the city.

The attack on Khalid took place despite all this. The attacker fled the spot.

The gun that the attacker dropped. (Photo credit: PTI).

Sequence of events

Khalid shot into the limelight in February 2016 after he and a few other Jawaharlal Nehru University students were accused of shouting anti-national slogans during an event held at the university to commemorate the death anniversary of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.

On Monday afternoon, Khalid was scheduled to attend an event titled Towards a Freedom Without Fear at the Constitution Club. The attack took place at around 2.30 pm, before the event started. Khalid and three of his friends were standing near a tea kiosk outside the main gate of the Constitution Club when a man jumped on Khalid from behind and threw him to the ground. Khalid’s friends told the police that they saw the man had a gun. They tried to overpower him, but the attacker fled. As he dropped the gun, a shot was accidently fired, the police said. He quickly crossed the road, chased by one security guards and two of Khalid’s friends, the police said.

On Monday evening, a case of attempted murder was registered against the unknown person, as were charges under the Arms Act.

According to eyewitnesses, the unidentified man slipped near the pavement near the walls of the Indian Newspaper Society building, where he dropped his gun. The man quickly stood up and started running again. Eyewitnesses lost sight of him soon after he reached the junction that connects Constitution Club, the Niti Aayog building and Ashoka Road.

Two eyewitnesses described the attacker as a man of medium build, wearing a white shirt. Some of the eyewitnesses said that they heard gunshots (some said one, others said two) at the moment the attacker accidentally dropped his gun. Some did not hear any gunshot at all.

“The organisers had not informed the police about booking the venue for the event,” said Ajay Choudhary, Joint Commissioner of New Delhi Range. “The weapon is being examined and experts are trying to prepare a sketch of the suspect with the help of the eyewitnesses. Meanwhile, police teams are examining CCTV footage acquired from the vicinity of the Constitution Club”

Choudhary refused to comment on two points: Security concerns ahead of Independence Day in the high-security area, and whether any instance of firing had taken place, either deliberate or accidental.

Khalid’s statement was recorded in the evening. “We will soon register a First Information Report once that is done,” Choudhury said. When asked what charges are likely to be pressed, he said it depended on Khalid’s statement and the preliminary investigation.

Umar Khalid, shortly after the attack on him. (Photo credit: PTI).

Security stepped up

After the incident, security arrangements were further enhanced in the area, with police personnel deployed outside all buildings, including the Constitution Club. Groups of policemen could be seen at every intersection, and near the tea and food kiosks in the area.

“This incident was clearly an attempt to stop the event from happening,” alleged Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer and civil right activist who had attended the event. “It is the duty of police officials to ensure safety and security of citizens. Such incidents are executed by people none other than the ones who believe in a mob culture. They do not think twice before participating in lynching and operate with a complete sense of impunity.”

Asked if the police saw the incident as a case of intelligence failure, senior police officials said this would only be clear once the identity of the attacker was ascertained. They said it would be unfair to draw conclusions at the moment.

Umar Khalid addresses a press conference after the attack on him on Monday. (Photo credit: IANS).