Despite Narendra Modi’s reminder to his Twitter followers that “peace and harmony is central to our ethos”, the international press put the blame for the Delhi violence on the Prime Minister’s hardline policies, especially the rollout of the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Most publications also noted the culpability of BJP leader Kapil Mishra, whose inflammatory remarks are said to have majorly contributed to the violence that has led to over 40 deaths. The reports remarked upon the alleged complicity of the Delhi Police and Modi’s chequered history as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, where in 2002, over communal riots claimed over 1,000 victims, the majority of whom were Muslims.
The editorial in The Guardian, headlined: “Modi stoked this fire”, said that Modi’s tweets, which came three days after violence erupted in North East Delhi, “does nothing to compensate for days of silence, nor to veil a career built upon stoking division”.
The article noted that Modi’s “international rehabilitation”, after being shunned by the global community for his alleged involvement in the 2002 Gujarat violence, “is mostly due to his subsequent election as prime minister”.
An editorial in The Khaleej Times, declaring “Politicians stoked Delhi Riots”, commented that “there is no need to second guess who” were responsible for the violence, and that “there would be enough data to provide concrete proof”. The piece concluded that “for now, the shame is universally Indian”.
A report in The Times, published from London, also mentioned the similarity of the Delhi violence to the Gujarat riots, particularly in “Modi’s silence, as the death toll mounted”.
German news magazine Der Spiegel pointed out that the violence in North East Delhi unfolded while Modi was busy rubbing shoulders with American President Donald Trump only kilometres away. The article titled “Outside show-off, inside protest” said, “Anti-Muslim rhetoric may harm India’s reputation abroad; inside, however, it works.”
A television programme on the MSNBC channel hosted by Chris Hayes had made a similar observation.
An article in The Washington Post titled “Why India’s Students Are Angry and Its Muslims Are Worried” stated that secularism has been a casualty in Modi’s Hindutva-inflected reign.
“Back in 1947, India’s constitution writers envisaged a secular state where all citizens were equal before the law,” the article read. “But the rise of Hindu nationalism has been testing that ideal. Since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, hardliners in his Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, have become increasingly emboldened in promoting the dominance of its Hindus, who form 80% of the population.”
A Gulf News piece, making a reference to 85-year-old Akbari, who was burned alive in her home in North East Delhi, asked, “An elderly lady – possibly older than the country itself – was burnt to death in the madness in the last few days. Think about it. What civilisational greatness can possibly come from burning a grandmother alive?”
Multiple ground reports and commentaries took pointed to Kapil Mishra’s role in stoking the flames.
A New York Times report titled “The Roots of the Delhi Riots: A Fiery Speech and an Ultimatum” said, “Many Indians, including Hindus, believe that Mr. Mishra and his Hindu nationalist supporters have weaponized a very dangerous mood. In a Hindu majority nation, with a Hindu nationalist government that has allowed the killers of Muslims to go unpunished, fear has been growing that violent Hindu extremism could spin out of control.”
Another report in the same newspaper underscored the involvement of the Delhi Police: “Witnesses have said that police officers, under the command of a Hindu nationalist governing party that has a long history of vilifying Muslims, intentionally stood back and let Hindu mobs slaughter Muslim civilians.”
A victim told VICE, “[The police] threw stones at us along with the mob and did nothing to stop them. We are at their mercy.”
A common sentiment expressed by several publications was that the Delhi violence had destroyed India’s international image as a democracy tolerant of multiple faiths and sub-cultures.
An Al Jazeera piece titled “In Delhi, imaginary knives have now become real ones” observed that if the peaceful anti-CAA protests across India showed that “we have the democratic, moral and intellectual legitimacy to question laws passed by the government, the anti-Muslim riots in the national capital have crushed that hope”.
A Gulf News editorial added, “The world knows India as a land of diversity with hundreds of sects and religions, languages and innumerable cultures. India is a multicultural land in the most basic sense of the word. But the images of the past week have grotesquely disfigured that narrative.”