Traditional political analysis sees the BJP as a beneficiary of communal violence. However, it’s hard to see what the party gained from the complete breakdown of law and order and rioting on the streets of the Capital, that too just weeks after the party lost the election to the city-state’s Assembly. As US President Donald Trump came visiting, India looked like a land of endemic social unrest, hate crime, police ineptitude and rioting. It looked like a banana republic.
It was not a good backdrop to Prime Minister Narendra Modi embracing Donald Trump, the two leaders keen to showcase a ‘special relationship’. The other world leader with whom Modi has a ‘special’ relationship is Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He cancelled his December visit to India after rioting broke out in Assam following the passing of the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by Parliament on December 12 (Abe and Modi were scheduled to have a summit in Guwahati).
One can, therefore, surmise that after speaking the language of civil war and hate in the run-up to the voting in Delhi on February 8, the BJP, in this instance, could not subsequently calibrate the consequences. The party could or would not put the genie back into the bottle; instead, the bottle broke and smashed into smithereens in Delhi.
What remains is the question: why? There is the inexplicable role of an otherwise insignificant figure in the BJP, a defeated MLA named Kapil Mishra, who acquired a minor profile when he stated that the Delhi election was an India-Pakistan match. Well, he lost and India apparently won. But Mishra was not done. He made an incendiary speech in north-east Delhi after which violence erupted and even some members of the BJP say so. In a video that he himself posted on Twitter, Mishra threatened to ‘hit the streets’ and ‘not remain peaceful’ in front of a senior cop. He gave a three-day ultimatum to wind up the anti-CAA protests in north-east Delhi. These protests had been going on peacefully in several parts of north-east Delhi till that point. But a spark was lit and the fires spread quickly.
The death toll has crossed 20, a policeman is dead and close to 200 injured in hospitals. Mishra joined the BJP only last year after being pushed out of AAP. There has been speculation that his fulminations are the consequence of feeling insignificant after Home Minister Amit Shah and Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari, after the polls, suddenly took positions against the kind of speeches that were made by their own leaders. But if that were the case, Mishra could be arrested and made an example of. That too has not happened even as there are good reports of many of the rioters coming from the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh to vent their fury in a part of Delhi that has a high minority population.
One can only conclude that the BJP, therefore, has not pulled back on its ideological determination to push on with the CAA and profile Muslims as the unreasonable ‘other’. However, in this instance, it was not the right optics for the PM at a time when the world was looking on. Besides, there is no immediate Assembly election that requires Hindu-Muslim polarisation.
In northeast Delhi, meanwhile, that is indeed what we have today, the wide road between Jafrabad and Maujpur is currently a battle zone. On February 25, there was a no man’s land between two police barricades. On the one side, in Maujpur, where the population is mixed, Hindu rioters armed with sticks and rods were baying for the blood of Muslims. They were, on February 25, checking the religious identity of the people and allowing only Hindus through. Spreading out from the epicentre, they burnt tyre shops, mattress shops, a small local dargah and as many homes where they could find Muslims and thrash, humiliate and beat them. Some distance away, a saffron flag was hoisted on a mosque.
On the other side of the police barricade, in Jafrabad, that is Muslim-dominated, there was a combination of terror, panic and anger among the young and a deep sadness among the old. Locals pointed to streets where all Muslim shops were destroyed.
Baba Malik, owner of a small business in hosiery, who also has been in touch with the local DSP, said they tried to protect the Hindu businesses in their areas and mostly succeeded. ‘See’, he said, ‘the famous Goswami Samosa Centre in our area remains untouched.’ It was a sad moment of seeking some hope in dark times. Indeed, there were reports of Hindus saving the Muslims some distance away. Malik is a traditional community leader who would like all sides to climb down. He does not hold the local population — Hindu or Muslim — responsible, but says that the problem has overwhelmingly been fanned by the people brought from outside. The anti-CAA sit-ins were going on for nearly two months, so what happened now, he wonders.
Certainly, in these long black nights that Delhi has just had, vicious goons have roamed the streets, striking terror into families, women and children, burning homes of the people who had very little to begin with.
When the smoke has dissipated, we could perhaps estimate the losses from the smouldering embers. Reporters on the ground say greater havoc has been wreaked on the Muslims, although in many parts where violence has erupted, they outnumber the Hindus. Many of these reporters have been bashed up and forced to prove their ‘Hindu’ identity by violent mobs.
Whatever little faith the Muslim community had left in the police has been shattered. The police are being seen as complicit in the violence. Muslim homes continued to be torched on the second night of the violence by mobs shouting Jai Shri Ram. What is happening in Delhi can also be seen as the ‘beyond fear’ moment for some young Muslims. I saw some young men aching to cross the barricades, even if they were to be killed doing so. It is a dangerous time to be in parts of the Capital.
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