The Indian capital saw an anxious Sunday night as rumours of mob attacks swept large parts of the city. Unsubstantiated rumours of rioters roaming loose came in from places as wide apart as Rohini in Northwest Delhi to Jaitpur in the southeastern part of the city, nearly 50 kilometres away.
In panic, people shut themselves inside their homes and markets closed.
Eventually, clarifications were issued which made it clear that the panic was based on rumours.
What had happened was alarming. With a population of more than 16 million, Delhi is the fourth largest city in the world. To have panic sweep through such a large, dense population based on rumours is a sign that something is very wrong.
What is wrong is not difficult to see. Rule of law is teetering in Delhi as the police has allowed mass violence and incitement to take place with impunity.
The past week has seen horrific communal riots break out in the city, with at least 45 people killed and property worth crores of rupees destroyed by rampaging mobs.
This horrific violence was preceded by an incendiary speech by a Bharatiya Janata Party politician, Kapil Mishra. He threatened to take the law into his own hands unless the police cleared out protestors opposing the Modi government’s Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens, which many fear could be used in conjunction to disenfranchise Indian Muslims.
Even though direct testimonials have emerged which show the rioters taking Mishra’s name as they assaulted people, the Delhi Police is yet to even charge the BJP leader. This, when even minor cases of alleged hate speech that have not led to any violence are routinely prosecuted in India.
Details have also emerged that the police was extremely lax as violence broke out, failing to deploy enough personnel in trouble areas. Worse, credible allegations exist that the police itself took part in the violence, cooperating with mobs to attack Muslims.
Even though the communal violence has stopped, the Delhi Police’s laxity has not. On Saturday, the slogan of “shoot the bloody traitors dead” was raised in Delhi’s busiest metro station. This slogan has been used several times by the BJP in recent months: first used by Kapil Mishra while leading a march in December, and then no less than a Union minister in the Modi government during the Delhi election campaign in January.
Remarkably, rather than clamp down on this sort of incitement in the extremely fragile post-riot environment, the police simply released the people who shouted the slogan.
Rather than clamp down on this sort of incitement in the extremely fragile post-riot environment, the police simply watched as the slogan was raised in Connaught Place, the commercial heart of Delhi city on Sunday, as a rally featuring only the Hindu victims of the riot passed through. The rally had Islamaphobic slogans against “Jihadi terror”, calls to end the anti-NRC protests and a demand in favour of police violence. Similar rallies were also taken out on Sunday.
The riots followed by this continued provocations means the city has been on edge for a week now. Scroll.in has reported how Shaheen Bagh, the site of the city’s largest anti-NRC protest, saw multiple instances of panic driven by rumours of mobs attacking. This panic has impacted a premier college in the Civil Lines area too, with students staying away from classes, fearing violence. On Wednesday, rumours of attacking mobs saw many markets in east Delhi deserted. In one case, the Laxmi Nagar market even had a near-stampede situation, reported the Hindustan Times.
The complete impunity given to rioters and those inciting violence has given rise to a situation where it seems as if Delhi city barely has a functioning administration. It is little wonder then that the city’s 16 million residents are on edge.
Still lighting fires
Incredibly, even in the midst of this, the ruling party has not though it wise to let up on its aggressive election campaigning. On Sunday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah launched the BJP’s Bengal election campaign in Kolkata, with supporters raising the same chants of “shoot the bloody traitors” outside the rally venue.
In his speech, Shah focused entirely on the divisive Citizenship Amendment Act, defending it. It was the passing of the CAA in December that sparked off this round of protest, given that Shah had threatened that the CAA, when used in conjunction with the NRC, would result in only Muslims having to prove their citizenship.
That the ruling party can be so irresponsible and continue to light fires in the hope of winning elections after 45 deaths in Delhi sends a dark signal to the people of India about the prospect of peace.
The BJP must end this irresponsible brinkmanship before things spiral out of control. The party must reassure India that it considers its duty as administrator more important than winning an election.
As a first step, the Union government must instruct the Delhi Police to clamp down completely and totally on incendiary slogans and rallies.
The city-wide panic that occurred on Sunday was alarming and Delhi was lucky to see the night through without incident. But this populous city cannot risk another round of panic, given the consequences of what could happen if things were to get out of hand.
The Delhi Police needs to take hard, urgent measures to calm Delhi down.