THE CITIZEN EDITORIAL | 25 FEBRUARY, 2020
Lage raho Kejriwal?
Delhi is burning, evoking visions of 1984 when the national capital was up in flames in the worst violence against Sikhs in the history of independent India. Armed mobs roamed the streets, attacking Sikhs and their property at will, looting, killing while the government at the time disappeared from view as did the police and the administration. For three days the mobs ruled, before the new prime minister Rajiv Gandhi called in the Army to restore calm. But not before deep devastation that has left permanent wounds on the nation’s psyche.
The difference between then and 2020 ---at least till now--- is that the violence has not reached Lutyens Delhi. But just as the trigger for violence then was supposedly the distribution of sweets by a community following Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the pretext now as BJP leader Kapil Mishra so eloquently put it before the violence was begun, are the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Mishra did not hide behind a fig leaf, making it clear that the only restraining factor was the visit of US President Donald Trump, and that if the Delhi Police had not cleared the streets of anti-CAA protestors by visit’s end then he and his supporters would. However, clearly there was a change of mind and the violence started almost immediately after on Sunday and is continuing even as we write, with reports of Muslim families moving out of the targeted areas.
A fact finding and impartial enquiry will pin responsibility but three facts are already undeniable. One, Mishra made provocative remarks. Two, there has been intense violence in the north and northeast localities of Delhi in which one policeman and at least six civilians have been killed. Shops have been looted, houses set on fire, with armed mobs still roaming the streets. Three, the state and central governments have watched the violence for almost 48 hours without action.
The role of the police in all the different areas has to be examined but again it is clear from citizens’ videos that in some areas policemen joined in the stone pelting, and in others they were nowhere to be seen, leaving the hapless people alone in the midst of violence. Curfew was not imposed, and mobs had the benefit of free assembly and movement. Two nights of sheer terror gripped these localities, with no response at all from those elected to power to ensure their constituents’ security and safety.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah seemed too busy in Ahmedabad looking after Trump and his family to be particularly bothered by the arson and violence that gripped Delhi localities, the importance of which was not lost on the international media, for which this story was bigger than the Modi-Trump extravaganza.
Shah returned to Delhi and held his first meeting on the violence Tuesday morning. But while this was expected, given the nature of the violence that made opposition to the CAA central to its propaganda, the silence of the newly elected state government certainly was not. That Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal stood by in silence ---except for a silly tweet--- is a comment on the Aam Aadmi Party government that just recently received an overwhelming mandate from Delhi’s voters.
The plea that the police is under the Union Home Ministry was a feeble plea, with questions rightly being asked by the targeted population as to why Kejriwal had not responded on Sunday itself, and rushed his cabinet and volunteers to the affected colonies to promote peace and start a dialogue before the violence spun out of control. And why he waited for almost two days before summoning his first cabinet meeting, from which he emerged speaking of peace committees.
AAP left the people of Delhi alone to face the horrors of violence, and made no effort whatsoever to intervene as a political party and a state government, with or without police. Even now social media messages for help from different localities are circulating like wildfire, with accounts of armed persons arriving in buses at protest sites with the stated purpose of “clearing” these of all protestors.
Right or wrong, it was imperative for the state government and AAP as a political party to have set up a rumour busting mechanism; a help centre; and jathas of volunteers to visit and try to restore peace in impacted areas. Instead Delhi was witness to a mute CM, with little to say except to blame his inefficiency and lack of response on the fact that the Delhi Police is under Shah’s command.
The Congress is the only other party that claims a presence in Delhi, but again except for a tweet or two, it has had little else to contribute by way of restoring peace in India’s capital. It is clear now that the agenda of hate and violence will continue with impunity, regardless of visiting dignitaries or the consequences for democracy in India.