When all hell broke loose in Delhi
Reports of thousands of people pouring in from Uttar Pradesh from across the border to wreak havoc on Delhi, reports of trucks upon trucks of mob-weaponry like bricks, stones, and iron rods being arranged and stashed well in advance, Kapil Mishra making the infamous incendiary speech at Maujpur, from whence the violence erupted, and now the emergence of extremely disturbing visuals of the police itself breaking CCTV cameras, point to just one incontrovertible fact: Delhi had an orchestrated Gujaratesque moment.
When I sat down to write about the ongoing communal carnage in Delhi—that began last Saturday, on 22nd February, and continues unabated—I felt that describing the bloodletting, its gory details, its hopelessness, the utter failure of our government, the brazen complicity of our police forces, the sanguinary greed of the political class, but, most of all, the naked monstrosity of our people would be akin to shaming one’s mother. What else could it be? Yes, I am cynical at times, critical often, but nonetheless, I am a proud Indian to the bone.
So, writing about our worst failings isn’t an easy job, as it would require one to confront the ugly truth that stares us in the face: we have turned rotten to the core; we are communal and bigoted as a society. The hatred professed by political parties, especially the BJP, now flows in the veins of our people. An analysis of the organised killings, arson and loot, of the meticulously executed murders in the name of religion, in the capital city—even as the Trumps were in the midst of their euphoric visit—will shame India. Bharat Mata has been desecrated. The plunder of her ideals, her values, carries on. We have perhaps reached the tipping point—very soon, if not already; there will be no Bharat Mata left, just her charred remains, as she is unceremoniously being consigned to flames. The fire that consumes Delhi has long been stoked—if the manner in which the central government has abetted it, and the state government led by Kejriwal has played along is any indication—it will only spread.
I don’t wish to call it a pogrom of Muslims—it jars my sensibilities; but if I call it a clash of communities, for the sake of balance, or in search of moral equivalence, I will submit to hypocrisy. While it is true that violence was meted out by both sides, it is undeniable that Muslim localities were systematically targeted with the active connivance of the law enforcement agencies. There are simply too many testimonies, too much hard evidence now to reach any other conclusion. Reports of thousands of people pouring in from Uttar Pradesh from across the border to wreak havoc on Delhi, reports of trucks upon trucks of mob-weaponry like bricks, stones, and iron rods being arranged and stashed well in advance, Kapil Mishra making the infamous incendiary speech at Maujpur, from whence the violence erupted, and now the emergence of extremely disturbing visuals of the police itself breaking CCTV cameras, point to just one incontrovertible fact: Delhi had an orchestrated Gujaratesque moment.
The inability of the police to arrest Kapil Mishra when so many have been killed can be put in sharper relief to how the police arrested Sharjeel Imam whose speech—no matter how undesirable— did not provoke violence. I know that comparisons are odious, but they will be made simply because our precarious condition calls for fairness, and even applications of the rules, by state agencies. A proclivity to apply norms differently does not inspire any confidence in the capacity of the state to protect minorities.
The biggest casualty in the entire unsavoury fracas is that now Muslims do not trust the police at all. This is one reason why Muslim neighbourhoods have been organising vigils to defend themselves; to be honest, things have vitiated to such an extent that any deployment of a large police contingent anywhere gives rise to fears amongst Muslims instead of allaying it. A couple of nights ago, people in Shaheen Bagh came to know of a massive concentration of RAF personnel in the adjoining locality of Jasola and this sent shivers down their spines. There has been a huge erosion in the confidence of minorities in the ability of the state to defend its lives and properties. Interestingly, the Sikhs and Dalits have come forward and helped Muslims in these traumatic times. There have been many heart-warming tales of many brave Hindus who risked their lives in defending the lives of Muslims from rioters.
The terrible violence was not spontaneous, as Amit Shah recently said. It is a travesty to call it spontaneous; it somehow mitigates the gravity of the crime. We need to remember it for what it is, in all its grotesque ugliness. Not often does the imagery of Nero—as the pitiable emperor who danced while Rome burnt to a cinder—finds substance in a contemporary setting, but in the present case we have an apt example of Modi or Kejriwal doing precious little to salvage our embattled city from total moral ruin.
I shudder to say it bluntly, but the marauding mobs have torn asunder the little remaining trust between communities; and, as Muslims flee from north-east Delhi, after being abandoned by the government, the police, the judiciary, and the political parties, with their properties razed, their houses burnt, their mosques defiled, we all have our faces smeared black. This is surely not the India of Mahatma’s dreams. Or the civilization of Swami Vivekananda, which from times immemorial has welcomed refugees without asking their religion. Our heritage of accommodation, of pluralism, of tolerance, lies squarely in the dust. The glorious standing of India in the world—not just for its economic might or its military prowess—but most significantly as a beacon of peace, for its diversity, and as a miracle of democracy, is tarnished severely. The gaze of the world is fixed upon us, and we are not earning any accolades.
The diabolical, beastly, side of our nature has flourished with all resplendence, turning us into bloodthirsty demons. No doubt, there are still sporadic tales of bravery and fortitude, enough for the eternal optimists among us to defer the obituaries of our body politic a wee bit more; but sadly, these sparkling stories seem to be the last flickers of a dying flame. The secret is out; there is no escaping this tragedy. Our institutions are destroyed. Our leaders have failed us. This is the end of hope. How else can we make sense of this madness?
And yet, there were straws in the wind. Or, perhaps more visible tell-tale signs of the impending carnage. We all witnessed—with a sense of perplexed disbelief—and many looked askance at the blatantly communal, overtly bellicose, and a bizarrely abusive political discourse at the hustings this time in Delhi. What could have been an occasion of democratic spectacle, turned into a horrific pageant. The declaration of results signalled a release—for the median voter and the conscientious citizen—from the painful responsibility of making unsavoury evaluations about the body politic, which appeared to be unceremoniously hurtling down on the slippery slope of an unmitigated disaster. Therefore, one might argue, possibly an important reason for this welcome respite was an end to the daily ignominy of suffering a sordid parade of vitriol and hate, of rabid speeches, and a barrage of incongruous shrieks that the Delhi elections had transformed into.
When the results started trickling in, on the morning of 11th February, and as the winners and losers for all the 70 constituencies were slowly unveiled over the course of the evening, the whole country heaved a massive sigh of relief. This sense of relief was not because one party had won and the other had lost—although, on sober analysis, a rather persuasive case could be made for such an inference too, given the substantively divergent nature of the respective campaigns of AAP and Delhi, and the political messaging embodied therein.
But who knew that the hate-mongering this time would not be just an election stunt? In less than a fortnight after AAP’s humongous victory, Delhi has become a victim of what may be reasonably described as the goriest pogrom ever since the heinous Sikh genocide of 1984. The long shadow of the cantankerous debate over the constitutional validity of the CAA, and the imminent threat of NRC-NPR that had ominously hung over the Delhi elections, has also lurked in the distance during the recent spate of killings in the capital. It is almost as though the worst nightmares have come true; the polarised election campaigning on Shaheen Bagh protests and the Citizenship Amendment Act has come to fruition in a sense with the capital city turning it into a veritable hell.
The acrimony has been exacerbated by the ongoing sit-in at Shaheen Bagh, which has shown exemplary courage in speaking truth to power in the face of threats and continuing slander. Shaheen Bagh, which is an unauthorized Muslim ghetto in Delhi, on the banks of the Yamuna, has accrued international acclaim as it continues to be the fulcrum of a nation-wide anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protest; most notably, many Shaheen Baghs have lately emerged in other parts of the country drawing inspiration from the robust bravery of women who have, as it were, dropped anchor in the choppy seas of Hindutva, refusing to budge or vacate their ground.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) went hammer and tongs at Shaheen Bagh with its profusely communal diatribe in a desperate bid to polarize voters on religion; it keenly sought to invoke an aggressive masculine version of nationalism; it conjured up a seductive narrative around perceived or imagined threats to the Hindu majority; it was relentless in its bid to project an internal enemy by demonizing and othering the protestors at Jamia and Shaheen Bagh; and, at times, it even dangerously flirted with a sly call for violence upon the so-called traitors. “Goli maaro”, indeed, became the most despicable slogan which found not just sanctuary on its podium, but was shamelessly, lustily, raised by its own ministers. This vocabulary of hatred, of diffidence, is symbolic of the intellectual bankruptcy anchored firmly in the very heart of Hindutva—an ideology which is incapable of looking beyond religions, perennially incarcerated, as it were, by its own prison of myths. This is not politics. This is not even perverted dissimulation. This is hatred—plain and simple. It is also an illustration of the many depravities that a Faustian bargain with the devil has wrecked on the soul of its practitioners. Such diabolical designs of the now increasingly incendiary BJP, to tear asunder the fabric that binds us all together as citizens, to reduce us to only our religions, testifies that it has nothing better to show for the five years at the helm.
The major part of the responsibility for targeted violence against the Muslims, therefore, lies at their doorsteps. As Maujpur, Bhajanpura, Gokulpuri, Chandbagh, Jaffarabad, Karawalnagar, and many other adjacent areas continue to see methodical violence, Delhi police seem either unwilling or unable to stem its tide. The violence saw some let-up only after Ajit Doval, the National Security Advisor, took command, in what can also be read as an unprecedented show of no-confidence in the Delhi Police to come good.
The BJP campaign was hollow on substance but fuelled by rhetoric: it was bumptious bluster of the most deceptive kind, a grandiose theatrical tilting at the windmills. Its foot-soldiers craftily spun an elaborate, fanciful tale of fear-mongering, exhorting the people of Delhi for a battle with imagined enemies under the stewardship of its own modern-day Quixotes—Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
The AAP, on the other hand, which had stubbornly refused to be drawn into any ideological battle during the elections, strictly kept at its municipal script; post elections, however, it has suddenly sought to flirt with Hinduism as was visible with Kejriwal’s Hanuman bhakti; it has also sought to occupy the nationalist space—the most recent example being its nod to Kanhaiya’s prosecution in the sedition case. The inability of an AAP-like party, bereft of any sound ideology, in stopping the BJP in the long run, or in transforming our society, has become very clear in how it failed abjectly in doing anything to prevent the naked dance of violence in Delhi.
The Muslims are in a state of shock. They feel abandoned. They feel alienated. They are in fear. Our country is at the crossroads. There is no reconciliation possible without facing the truth. It is time that our principal political parties openly accept and acknowledge that our criminal justice system is broken, and it is biased against the Muslims. That can be the first step towards healing. We need leadership. A Nehru who openly flung himself towards rioters with a lathi in hand, in Delhi, in the post-partition riots when the police refused to act. Or a Gandhi who stood headlong above his contemporaries in accommodating the concerns of minorities. Do we have anyone like them on the horizon? Do we even have someone like Bernie Sanders who has the courage of his convictions in calling out injustice, unmindful of the electoral consequences?