The toll of the Delhi riots keeps mounting. At least 42 have been killed in the capital of the world’s largest democracy. It started with a supposed ‘clash’ between CAA supporters and anti-CAA protesters following the speech of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Kapil Mishra. The clash soon turned into a riot and, in some places, into a de facto anti-Muslim pogrom.
Many — including prominent journalists and commentators — have taken offence over the use of word ‘pogrom’. They would stress how ‘both sides’ have lost lives and property. Hardly anyone would deny that both Hindus and Muslims have suffered loses. The difference, however, is that the former has the sympathy and support of political executive — and, by extension, the police — while no political actor even wants to be seen as being sympathetic to the latter. Any overt expression of concern or empathy towards the latter is political suicide and, therefore, ‘strategic silence’ is imperative.
At the lowest level, there are a large number of videos and testimonies of police acting as bystanders during violence or even colluding with mobs against Muslims. At a higher level, the Union government has ensured that no one from the BJP is arrested despite their explicit hate speeches on the record. The police have refused to even file a FIR against Kapil Mishra and others. The party has taken no action against them either.
On 26 February, Justice S Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court came down heavily on the police over their brazen refusal to uphold basic rule of law, and specifically questioned why the police have not filed a FIR against Kapil Mishra and others. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta persistently refused to promise any action on the matter and strongly objected to any criticism of Delhi Police. The bench gave 24 hours to the police to examine videos of the hate speech and respond.
The government swiftly issued the gazette notification of Justice Muralidhar’s transfer to Punjab and Haryana High Court the same night. Predictably, the next day, a new bench — comprising Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar — gave the Central government four weeks to file an affidavit and adjourned the matter till then.
The fact that someone as dispensable for BJP as Mishra enjoys such layers of protection from the State and party shows the implied approval his words have from the ruling party. It is a manifestation of the privilege and patronage enjoyed by one side. Meanwhile, Sherjeel Imam, Ishrat Jahan, Khalid Saifi, and Dr Kafeel Khan continue to remain in jail on flimsy grounds. It is this State protection and support for one side against the other that makes the case for it be referred to as “anti-Muslim pogrom”.
The role of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its leaders have been unsatisfactory at best and complicity at worse. For two days, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal issued only a few general statements requesting peace. It was followed by bizarre theatrics of Kejriwal and his colleagues ‘praying’ at Raj Ghat instead of visiting the affected areas, and mobilising party cadres and government machinery. Despite serious questions on the role of Delhi Police in the initial period, Kejriwal and his party have not questioned Home Minister Amit Shah.
AAP received some flak for its fence-sitting attitude on issues of CAA-NRC-NPR and the associated protests during the Delhi election. Supporters and sympathisers explained it as a strategic move to ‘avoid polarisation’. The hope was that once elected, Kejriwal would acknowledge and support the cause. That did not happen, and his party continued with their ‘strategic rhetoric’ of making sure not to question the majoritarian narrative. The state government has started relief work and Kejriwal visited some affected areas later, too little and too late.
The Congress, despite its continuing decline in Delhi, has maintained its support for the anti-CAA protests. However, its cadres and leaders were not seen in the affected areas initially either. Nonetheless, the party does not have any elected leader or strong cadre in Delhi to even remotely match AAP. Interim party president Sonia Gandhi criticised the role of the State and Central government and demanded Shah’s resignation. Following her press conference, Prime Minister Modi broke his silence and tweeted an appeal for peace.
The larger point is that while ‘both sides’ have suffered damages, the patronage and sympathy of the State is not equal for both. Even as the violence seems to be reducing, the story is not over for Muslims. In the name of investigation, the government agencies will disproportionately crackdown on Muslims, while the mainstream media will continue to demonise them — it has already started with Tahir Hussain being claimed as a ‘mastermind’ of the violence. While one side is expected to receive a semblance of justice (as it should), such hope is practically non-existent for Muslims.
The BJP feeds on constant hatred against Muslims. The community does not have any strong political allies to counter the BJP. Other institutions — media, judiciary and investigative agencies — appear deeply compromised and cannot be expected to mitigate the political onslaught.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval told a local “jo ho gaya, so ho gaya” (whatever happened has happened) during a visit to an area affected by violence. The statement embodies the predicament of Muslims: Do not hope for any justice and move on with whatever has happened and will happen.
The author studies political science at Ashoka University and is a former research associate at Trivedi Centre for Political Data, Ashoka University
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