OPINION: India’s Delhi-violence is Amit Shah’s answer to the election defeat


by Shivam Vij

It is Amit Shah’s way of reminding everyone that the Delhi election results mean nothing, and that Arvind Kejriwal is a nobody.

Deputy Commissioner of Delhi Police Rajesh Deo has told the Delhi High Court it has not seen the video of Kapil Mishra threatening violence in northeast Delhi. This one headline alone tells you everything you need to know about the violence in Delhi. Kapil Mishra is a BJP leader, the Delhi Police is run directly by Home Minister Amit Shah, the right-hand man of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Kapil Mishra made his provocative speech in the presence of a senior Delhi Police officer, making it clear that he wanted his followers to take the law in their own hands.

The Delhi pogrom of 2020 is state-sponsored. Anyone who cannot see that is pretending to be blind. In numerous accounts, videos and photos, we see the Delhi Police purportedly aiding and abetting the violence, either by looking away or actually participating in it.

A Delhi Police constable has been killed, as has an Intelligence Bureau official. The 24 dead (so far) include people from both religions — but more Muslims. When mass violence is provoked against a community, the community strikes back in defence. That’s how it becomes a riot, spun as an ‘equal fight’ between two sides. Both are then blamed. But the truth is that it is primarily Muslims who have been targeted, Muslim shops burnt, a cemetery desecrated, a mosque taken over, pages of the Quran burnt, and so on.

What was the purpose of this violence? First, it was to prevent the scaling up of the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests. The women sitting in Seelampur, a Muslim-dominated slum area, rightly felt it was no use sitting there. Shaheen Bagh got attention by virtue of being in south Delhi, even though it is in a Muslim-dominated area. But Seelampur? It was like speaking to themselves.

Responding to a Bharat Bandh call by Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, the women decided to move their protest to a road underneath the Jaffrabad metro station Saturday night. This blocked a road. Unless you block a main road, how do you get the attention of the mainstream? This is not the first time a road has been blocked by a group of protesting people.

But BJP’s Kapil Mishra said the blocking of a road was somehow a matter serious enough for people to take law in their own hands. He demanded that the road be cleared in both Jaffrabad and nearby Chand Bagh.

New Delhi: Rioters set ablaze a shop during clashes between those against and those supporting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in at Gokalpuri in north east Delhi, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020 | PTI
Rioters set ablaze a shop during riots in north east Delhi, Tuesday, 25 Feb 2020 | PTI

The Jaffrabad model of silencing dissent

What unfolded then was a clear diabolical plan. Make it look like a ‘clash’ between “pro-” and “anti-” CAA protesters. The clash goes violent. Muslims provoked and forced to respond in self-defence. It looks like a riot. Use the violence as an excuse to clear the anti-CAA protests — the peaceful and democratic anti-CAA protests.

When the Jaffrabad protest site was cleared, a top BJP-RSS leader declared victory. B.L. Santhosh is the BJP’s general secretary (organisation), a post reserved for the RSS representative. Here was his tweet just as news came in of the Jaffrabad site being cleared:

BL Santhosh's deleted tweet
BL Santhosh’s deleted tweet

Santhosh then deleted this tweet, to remove “game starts now” and replace it with “time to enforce law in its entire spirit” in a new tweet:

Similarly, the Chand Bagh protest site nearby was also cleared.

This is a model that could well be applied soon to other protest sites, Shaheen Bagh and others, in Delhi and elsewhere. We saw a trailer of this in some BJP-ruled states earlier: Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, even in Jamia area in Delhi. In the Jamia Millia Islamia violence, the excuse of a burnt bus was used to beat up students even inside the university library. The idea is to use violence to create a consensus that the anti-CAA protesters are violent Islamists.

At the heart of this debate is also a claim to public space. Section 144 does not seem to apply to state-backed mobs. The police provides them security or stands by. But for anti-CAA protesters, all the laws come down heavily on them, preventing them from protesting.

Security personnel stand guard near a neighbourhood vandalised by rioters during clashes between those against and those supporting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in north east Delhi, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. | PTI
Security personnel stand guard near a neighbourhood vandalised by rioters during violence in north east Delhi, Tuesday, 25 Feb 2020. | PTI

Reply from Amit Shah

The BJP’s calculation about the CAA-NRC-NPR laws was that people will take them lying down, with the same sense of defeat and surrender with which they accepted the dilution of Article 370, verdict on Ram Mandir and so on.

Taken aback, the BJP thought the protests would fizzle out in weeks. When the protesters, who could not even be discredited as opposition-backed, found an ‘occupy’ model led by women, the BJP thought it might actually help it polarise people on Hindu-Muslim lines. So, for instance, a Delhi BJP MP, the foul-mouthed Parvesh Verma, said of Shaheen Bagh protesters last month that they might enter people’s homes and rape women.

Such attempts at hatemongering did not succeed, as the Delhi election got the BJP only eight of the 70 seats, and the rise in vote-share was marginal. The anti-CAA/NPR/NRC or ‘Chronology’ protests, not even good for polarisation, are now a nuisance to the Narendra Modi government, which does not like dissent. It doesn’t want people speaking up against the threat of being made stateless through ‘Chronology’ laws. It is likely now that the ‘Chronology’ protests everywhere could face similar violence.

The northeast Delhi pogrom of 2020 serves another purpose. It is Amit Shah’s way of reminding everyone that the Delhi election results mean nothing, and that Arvind Kejriwal is a nobody. Kapil Mishra is Amit Shah’s answer to the Delhi electorate. It’s his way of saying who’s boss. It’s a catharsis of the anger of the defeat of Delhi.

Article first published on The Print.

Shivam Vij is a contributing author at The Print.

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