The violence that has engulfed parts of Delhi is a severe human tragedy and signifies the acute moral and political crises that our republic is facing. Thus far, there are reports of 38 lives being lost and hundreds being critically injured in different parts of north-east Delhi. While the human and material losses suffered by a particular community are incalculable, the sufferings of the other community is used by the ruling party to sharpen its divisive rhetoric.
While the incendiary speech by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in Jaffrabad, where he brazenly threated violence against anti-CAA (Citizenship [Amendment] Act) protestors is seen as the immediate trigger for the violence, the generalised atmosphere of hate created by the BJP’s election campaign in Delhi had all the portents of fomenting such a situation.
Is it a coincidence that the campaign speech by the BJP president and union home minister, where he stooped to using communally charged insinuations, was made in the areas that are worst affected? Also, one cannot miss the fact that five of the eight constituencies won by the BJP are from the same area, thus indicating the extent of receptivity to its divisive campaign. How can one gloss over the link between the “goli maaro” sloganeering and the fact that every third injured person has bullet wounds?
It is unmistakable that the continuous efforts by the leaders of the ruling party to vilify the peaceful protestors against the CAA–National Population Register (NPR)–National Register of Citizens (NRC), specifically targeting the Muslim community, have created sanction for the targeted violence. This political–ideological sanction that has been coupled with administrative–juridical impunity raises serious questions over the role of the central government as the Delhi police is controlled by the union home ministry.
The actions (and inactions) of the Delhi police during this period have been marked by indifferent passivity at best and active enabling at worst. Reports of violent mobs raising sectarian slogans being shielded by the police, or the police themselves indulging in heinous acts of beating up the injured from a particular community and asking them to sing the national anthem, or preventing the ambulances from reaching the grievously injured are indicators of the abdication of their duty to uphold the rule of law.
Moreover, there are reports of the Delhi police not acting on intelligence reports indicating the possibility of violence. In fact, a Delhi police personnel was standing right next to the BJP leader as he made the incendiary speech that preceded the violence. If the Delhi police were merely following orders, then that adds to the culpability of the union home ministry and the home minister who is now conspicuosly silent.
One wonders whether such absence itself is a continuing presence by other means. The argument that there were inadequate forces to control the escalating situation is weak, as it does not answer the refusal to deploy paramilitary forces or the military for the purpose. These grave errors of commission and the omission, seen along with the track record of the ruling duo, raise suspicion about the intent of the current government.
The grounds for such suspicion are also provided by the concerted efforts of the government to shield the individuals whose hate speeches have triggered the conflagration. It is a travesty of the rule of law that the second highest legal officer of the government was arguing in the Delhi High Court for a delay in filing FIRs (first information reports) against these individuals.
That the judge who had called for hastening the process of filing FIRs and raised questions over the conduct of the police was hastily transferred, and the new bench effectively granted the delay is not only a sign of denial of justice, but also of the alacrity of the government to protect the members of the ruling party. The fact that the violence would be investigated by the officers who have earned a degree of notoriety for their investigation in cases pertaining to violence in Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia Central University adds to the doubt over the government’s commitment to truth and justice.
While the ruling party’s commitment to these values has always been dubious, the role of the Delhi government and its political leadership during the ongoing crisis leaves much to be desired. Even if it lacks the administrative capacity to handle the situation, it was expected to take the moral and political lead to address the situation by mobilising forces for peace and harmony. What use is a huge popular mandate if it cannot be harnessed to save human lives and douse fires of hatred? Considering that the ongoing violence is a product of particular political actions, it surely cannot be tackled by administrative means alone, which in any case are out of bounds of the Delhi government.
However, it necessitates a political response that entails reaching out to the affected areas and using one’s popular legitimacy to build pressure on the central government to act swiftly. The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) passivity points towards the limits of pragmatism in countering the ideological challenge posed by the ruling party.
After all, for forces committed to a communal–divisive ideology, spectacles of targeted violence serve the purpose of consolidating the ideology of hate and exclusion and projecting themselves as the saviours. Even as the utter administrative failure of the central government on the law-and-order front is evident in this case, ominous portents of intensifying conflagrations born out of its divisive strategy are starkly coming to the fore. Mounting a challenge to it by mobilising people for unity and harmony is the task that the opposition forces need to take up urgently.