Hard Look: Is electoral politics tearing Delhi’s social fabric?

Television screens flashed visuals that had long since been forgotten. Is electoral politics tearing Delhi’s social fabric?

Written by Dipankar Ghose , Aniruddha Ghosal | New Delhi | Updated: November 11, 2014 7:19 pm
A brick for a brick: Trilokpuri’s streets are now clear but debate still rages on who started the Diwali rioting and why. (Source: IE photo by Oinam Anand) A brick for a brick: Trilokpuri’s streets are now clear but debate still rages on who started the Diwali rioting and why. (Source: Express photo by Oinam Anand)

In the last month, five areas of the national capital were brought to boiling point. Two spilled over, three were narrowly contained. Television screens flashed visuals that had long since been forgotten. Is electoral politics tearing Delhi’s social fabric?

It has been almost a year since the Assembly elections in Delhi, and the interval has been anything but ordinary. The Capital saw the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party and its fall in just 49 days after forming government. It saw Delhi under President’s rule for the first time since its creation as the National Capital Territory (NCT) in 1993. And now, Delhi bears witness to a dangerous first — communal tension with another election beckoning.

Consider this: In the last month alone, five different areas of the national capital were brought to boiling point. Two spilled over, three were narrowly contained.

Television screens flashed visuals that had long since been forgotten. The police came out in force, ushering people inside their homes. Some were armed, others merely looking out for signs of danger. Families left homes, and livelihoods came to a temporary halt. Delhi had watched as riot after riot erupted in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh before the Lok Sabha polls. The city now watches with bated breath as the violence comes to its doorstep.

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On the night of October 23, a drunken brawl between two groups took place in Trilokpuri, next to a Mata ki Chowki, a temporary religious structure. The next day, aided by the misuse of technology, the incident had taken a communal turn, and was read as an altercation between the Hindus and Muslims of Trilokpuri. They had lived together for years in homes separated by an arms length, but the next night, all ties were left behind. For 8 hours, neighbours pelted stones at each other, and shops were burnt. Morning came, but brought no succour. For three days, the police struggled to contain the span of the violence, so deep rooted in the bylanes it had become.

Thirteen were injured, eight with bullet wounds.

The Trilokpuri MLA was from the AAP, and Raju Dhingan will not survive the episode. In the aftermath of the incident, the AAP launched a verbal attack on the BJP, accusing it of inflaming communal tensions to polarise voters and pointing to the alleged role of ex MLA Sunil Kumar. But even if the AAP leadership did not blame Dhingan for the riots, it  has punished him nonetheless. “He is not being given a ticket for his ineffective handling of the aftermath of the riots,” an AAP leader said.

In the days since Trilokpuri, there has been a tenuous calm, with “Aman committees” working overnight. Traditional methods of involving themselves in each others festivals were used, and many  thought the tension was a one-off. But it wasn’t. It took just 10 days to prove it, this time in Bawana.

Hindus from 51 villages collected at a mahapanchayat at the main marketplace in the Jat-dominated area in northwest Delhi. They called for a Muharram procession, which had been carried out for seven years, to stop passing through “their area.” The local MLA Gugan Singh extended his support. In his words, “they could do whatever they wanted outside their homes, but couldn’t disturb others.”

The problem was with “the aggressive nature” of the procession and the Jat’s promised that “they would show no fear, and the administration would be responsible for any ensuing violence.” But even before the Jat show of strength, the Muslims of area, suitable intimidated and grossly outnumbered, had agreed to change the route.

Days later, on October 5 in another end of Delhi, a mosque was found desecrated in Okhla’s Madanpur Khadar. Like Trilokpuri there was a Mata ki Chowki next to the mosque. But here, it was the Hindus who were outnumbered. Violence could have exploded again. But it didn’t as the police reacted promptly, cleaning the mosque and urging every one to maintain peace.

But by then, residents and politicians had both begun to wonder if the tension was being engineered for electoral gain. AAP and Congress, for once agreed.

While AAP leader Irfanullah claimed that this was being done by “certain elements to aid BJP in polarizing votes in Okhla”, sitting MLA  Asif Mohammad Khan was far blunter and said, “The BJP attempts this every time, trying to unite Gujjar and Dalit votes against the Muslim.” Both went around from house to house, urging people to remain calm while campaigning for their respective parties.

But before Trilokpuri, Bawana and Okhla, it had all begun in the Jorbagh Karbala on October 11. Though the conflict between the Anjuman-E-Haidari, in charge of the Shia site, and residents of the largely Hindu BK Dutt Colony was longstanding, locals had rarely seen such an outpouring of anger. Till late at night, the battlelines stood clearly demarcated. Inside the dargah, the Muslims stood camped.

Outside in the bylanes of the colony were groups of angry Hindu’s, targeting and assaulting “outsiders” to the colony. In the middle was a street full of stones, and a burnt canopy, standing testimony to the ferocity of the violence the police had to quell. In two days, tensions eased and both sides sat and conversed.

Only on Sunday night, Babarpur joined the list. This time, the severed head of a cow was found outside a shop (see report on Newline page 1).

In Trilokpuri, it was a “drunken brawl”, in Okhla it was a desecrated mosque and in Bawana, cattle theft. Elections in Delhi have not even been notified, nor has campaigning begun, but the politics of polarisation has.

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