The Delhi communal riots, which could have easily been predicted after two-and-a-half months of Muslim-led protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019, which included blockage of arterial roads in the national capital and incendiary speeches against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government that bordered on Hinduphobia, shows how the law and order system has rotted to the core.
Neither the Centre, nor the state government, nor the police – nor even the judiciary – has acquitted itself well in this case. The worst roles were played by partisan media, especially those who pretended that the anti-CAA protests were “secular” and peaceful, not to speak of assorted non-government organisations that made policing difficult and strong and decisive action unlikely.
Today, it is easy for everyone to point fingers at the police for inaction, but the critics forget that the very same police force – whether in Delhi after the Jamia protests or the ones in Uttar Pradesh after anti-CAA rioting in some cities – are today subject of repeated court admonitions and notices. If the law and order machinery has to keep looking over its shoulders to what the courts will say tomorrow, they will always prefer to do nothing rather than risk being hauled over the coals.
The government, with the Delhi elections looming large in February, decided to deal with the Shaheen Bagh protesters with kid gloves, allowing them to inconvenience the public by blocking roads. Thanks to this initial pusillanimity, the unseen orchestrators of the protests saw an opportunity to scale up blockages and cause economic havoc. It was only to be expected that they would be resisted by the public and even anti-social elements. This is what caused the recent riots, as Hindu and Muslim groups set upon each other, resulting in 27 deaths, including two law enforcement officers. The entire police-legal-judicial-law enforcement system failed Delhi. The Delhi High Court ordered FIRs against three BJP leaders for alleged “hate speeches”, ignoring all the hate speeches that preceded them.
The latest cycle of violence was precipitated by the Donald Trump visit, which gave the anti-CAA protesters the opportunity to stage-manage mayhem in order to attract global attention. In the process, a communal riot involving two communities got labelled as a “pogrom” against just Muslims by a partisan media, both Indian and foreign. The media has much to answer for.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court did not cover itself with glory when it hemmed and hawed over restraining the Shaheen Bagh protesters. First, instead of asking them to clear the blocked roads and continue their protests elsewhere, it bought time by bringing in interlocutors, who did nothing useful.
Yesterday (26 February), as north-east Delhi went up in flames, the court simply adjourned hearings to 23 March, on the plea that “the matter must cool down first”. If things “must cool down” before anyone can act, why blame the police for also following the same wait-and-watch routine? When courts manage to paralyse themselves into inaction, why would policemen rush to maintain the law?
If the right things will be done only when it is convenient to the courts, it is essentially no different from saying that the courts will not take difficult decisions at the right time. The protesters at Shaheen Bagh have now got a signal that intransigence pays, and the police, even if they want to, will be wary of doing their duty.
Is this anyway to enforce the rule of law, where the executive, the courts and the police all shy away from doing their duty? The mob has won.
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