Power and responsibility
In the aftermath of the Delhi riots, questions must be raised about the impotence and apparent complicity of current power structures in this period of unrest
There will be zero tolerance of terrorism," announced the Home Minister. But, more than any other terrorism, the country has been witnessing more of Hindu and Hindutva terrorism for quite some time, latest being the violence in Delhi, in which over two scores of people have died and over 200 injured. People have doubts whether with all the powers and authority they wield, will he sternly act against such terror instead of shifting the blame on others, since the BJP and RSS work in tandem for a different agenda.
The dictum, 'Power without responsibility is irresponsibility, and responsibility without power is impotency,' does not matter for those who abuse power. Thus, in Delhi, Kejriwal government is being blamed for the disturbance of law and order, while with absolute authority over Delhi Police, the BJP has been blatantly abusing it, as is evident in several instances, including handling of the much-maligned CAA protests.
But the moot question is when CAA is so vehemently opposed in the country, why is the government so adamantly set against backing down. The logic proffered by some analysts is that CAA impasse is to polarise Indian society on religious grounds and fester unrest till the elections in 2024. It is for revisiting the voters' list and creating constituency-wise data in order to permanently convert an assured 30 per cent of vote-share into 300-odd seats by disenfranchising anti-BJP voters, both Muslims and Hindus, to the extent that is possible. With all the personal information of people being stored by the government, CAA would help them in deciding who should be eligible to get benefits from social welfare programmes.
While Shaheen Bagh was used for Delhi elections to create hysteria, the peaceful sit-in demonstration of Muslim women near Jaffrabad metro station was disturbed for spreading fear. Beginning with Kapil Mishra's hate-speech and his ultimatum to Delhi Police for the removal of protesters and his supporters pelting stones, the situation turned into full-scale riots in Jaffrabad, Maujpur, Bhajanpura and Chand Bagh of NE Delhi. Bricks were unloaded from trucks with shouts of "Jai Shri Ram", "Jo maange azaadi desh mein, bhejo Pakistan unhe", "Hindu bhagwadhaari aayega", etc., rented the air and the hooligans and bigots torched houses, shops, vehicles, a petrol pump, fire tender, and hurled stones, especially targeting Muslim properties for three days. People climbed down by ropes and burned a school and used it as their base. The minar of a masjid was damaged and RSS flag hoisted on it. A protester even brandished a pistol at unarmed policemen and fired in the air. Leaping flames and billowing smoke framed the skyline. In addition to several civilian casualties, a policeman died and a DCP was seriously injured. A young IB officer was brutally butchered. But, police action was wanting, for obvious reasons.
While the Home Minister maintained that the violence was spontaneous, there are signs of a plot at play. Certain reports emerging endorse this opinion, since the gangs came in from outside the colonies to disturb the peace of both Hindus and Muslims who did not vote for the BJP.
Interestingly, violence was confined to the NE of Delhi, where Kapil Mishra, who had even compared the Delhi elections to that of Pakistan-India war, has some hold. He was not booked, nor do others who gave hate speeches. LG, who controls Delhi Police, did not act.
Delhi Police leadership did not foresee that the tremors felt in Jamia, JNU, Shaheen Bagh, and the Delhi election portended an intense earthquake. The photo of a burning bus was circulated in the media to justify the harsh action of Delhi Police at Jamia Millia University. However, videos of uniformed personnel seen emptying cans of petrol on the bus and setting it on fire, in existence as per some media reports, not only contradict this story but adds questions about the conspiracy involved. Then, in JNU, scores of fully armed masked men ran riot on the campus, beating students and teachers, pulling out young women from their hostel rooms and committing vandalism. Even the electric supply was disconnected, showing the extent of the conspiracy.
Curiously, violence happened and people were killed only in BJP-ruled states. 'Our government shot them like dogs,' gloated a BJP leader, revealing the plans of the rulers to create a fear-psychosis.
Then, it is too evident that the Shaheen Bagh issue was precipitated with an eye on Delhi elections. The Home Minister supplemented the hate-speeches of his party campaigners by exhorting the voters to press the EVM button so hard that the current would send a shock to the protestors at Shaheen Bagh. But, as the former CIC Habibulla claims in an affidavit in the SC, "The traffic chaos at Shaheen Bagh continues only because Delhi Police deliberately barricaded all the parallel and arterial roads."
And now, as feared, a real earthquake has rocked NE Delhi; there was unabated violence. The father of the young IB officer who was killed with vengeance, accused Tahir Hussain, an AAP Corporator, and accordingly, he has been booked by Delhi Police. Petrol bombs stacked on his terrace were also recovered. No one listened to the Corporator when he said that because of the tense situation, it was only with the help of police that he had left his house. However, Swarajya TV has come out with shocking evidence that people had witnessed police and goonda elements taking petrol bombs out from a vehicle and planting them on the terrace before formally recovering them. Another shocker comes from the brother of the deceased, who said that a mob shouting "Jai Shri Ram" slogans killed his brother with swords.
Under these circumstances, can the country expect impartial investigations by Delhi Police in the cases of these riots? It is necessary that these investigations are court-monitored. But, will it happen when the government has always been sending a message that any attempt to leash it in its tracks will not be tolerated and that it does not want the judges to teach it governance?
They tried their best to stop KM Joseph's elevation to the SC because he had quashed the President's rule imposed in Uttarakhand. They stalled the appointment of Gopal Subramanium as a judge of SC since he had argued cases against the PM and the Home Minister in Gujarat riots. Justice Geeta Mittal of Delhi HC, who gave judgement against shell companies that irked the government, was transferred to J&K HC.
They have now reiterated their message again by issuing a midnight notification transferring Justice Muralidhar, who set upon disciplining the Delhi Police into taking the required legal action by sternly ordering FIRs against Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur, Pravesh Verma, Abay Verma and others. The government's action in giving a reprieve to the trouble-makers and the police only speaks volumes about their complicity. However, the SC has now asked the High Court to hear the matter in two days instead of four weeks.
Indeed, for the lack of professionalism of Delhi Police, the bench of Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph observed, "Had the police acted the way law required them to act and stopped people from inflammatory remarks, the spiral of violence could have been averted and lives saved." They have even referred to the SC directions in the matter of Prakash Singh for police reforms for ensuring their independence.
But, who cares? Police reforms are still a mirage. There is a growing disconnect between the lower ranks with their seniors. Police Complaints Authorities are lame-duck institutions. And, abuse of the powerful tool of police machinery with impunity has now reached its zenith.
The fact is that this administration was given power with the hope that they would act with responsibility for the welfare of every citizen, without distinction, as enshrined in our Constitution. Instead, what is witnessed is, 'Hindu and Hindutva terror' is eulogised as patriotism, while every opponent to their ideas and ideology is 'anti-national' and a 'terrorist.'
The country eagerly hopes that the Supreme Court would make them understand the Fundamental Right to Protest. Similarly, the people of Delhi expect the Delhi Police to be placed under the locally elected government, since they have easy access to the local MLAs to get their grievances redressed, not to the MHA. The world is closely watching and UNHRC has already intervened in the SC proceedings.
The writer is a retired IPS officer and a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. Views expressed are strictly personal