Barely hours after National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval, accompanied by senior Delhi Police officers, walked the streets of riot-hit areas of northeast Delhi going door to door and assuring residents of safety, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he “had an extensive review on the situation prevailing in various parts of Delhi.” The signal couldn’t have been more loud and clear: South Block had swung into action to restore normalcy in the national capital wracked by violence that had claimed 27 lives by Wednesday.
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Indeed, this was foreshadowed the previous night after the Delhi Police machinery, reporting to Union Home Ministry under Amit Shah, had been ineffective in tamping down violence and arson that raged right through Tuesday. Soon after US President Donald Trump left India after his two-day visit, Doval was pressed into action.
The NSA, who had earlier taken over the reins of law and order in Jammu and Kashmir post scrapping of Article 370 in August, was seen walking down the lanes and bylanes of several neighbourhoods in the affected district including Maujpur and Chauhan Bangar. At one place, when a student told him that she was fearful and needed protection, he said: “I give you my word of honour.”
Sources said Doval took a “stern view” of the police’s handling of the situation and questioned how a gathering of protesters was allowed underneath the Jafrabad Metro station Saturday night.
It clearly indicated the PMO’s lack of faith in the ability of Delhi police leadership in controlling the situation. After taking stock of the situation both on Tuesday and Wednesday, Doval briefed Shah.
Incidentally, on Wednesday, Shah held a series of meeting on various issues which included a Group of Ministers (GoM) with Cabinet colleagues Narendra Tomar and Ram Vilas Paswan. He had another meeting with Railway and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal. These meetings were preceded by another one with Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla and a senior IB official. However, officials said this meeting was not on Delhi violence.
The situation in Delhi was also not discussed in the Union Cabinet meeting held Wednesday morning.
Admitting that the Delhi police could not bring the situation under control, BJP sources said the government was keen on putting the “administration” into action to contain the violence.
Asked why the NSA had to step in, BJP General Secretary Anil Jain said the government wanted to handle things using the administration. “If the Home Minister takes a round of the Delhi streets, it would not send the right message. We wanted the situation to be brought under control using the administration only. The NSA visited these areas after consultation with the Home Minister,” Jain said.
Doval, incidentally, holds a Cabinet rank and does not report to the Home Minister. It is also rare to see the NSA involved in a local law-and-order situation.
In fact, both of Shah’s deputies in the Ministry, G Kishan Reddy and Nityanand Rai, were also not pressed into the field.
On Wednesday afternoon, Modi tweeted: “Had an extensive review on the situation prevailing in various parts of Delhi. Police and other agencies are working on the ground to ensure peace and normalcy…Peace and harmony are central to our ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times. It is important that there is calm and normalcy is restored at the earliest.”
Home Ministry sources said Shah was present in the review meeting.
Government and party sources said that the Delhi police, despite having adequate forces at their disposal, failed to react promptly. “The police failed so miserably that the Home Minister had to seek information from the party cadres and MLAs on the ground. Until 3 am, based on information provided by party cadres, the Home Minister kept passing on instructions to the police. He was informed by partymen that the police initially kept sitting in their vehicles watching their mobile phones,” said a senior government official.
Political observers see the fielding of Doval as the Prime Minister’s assertion on the issue of developments linked to changes in the citizenship law which have triggered protests across the country. This echoes his earlier recalibration on the National Register of Citizens. So while Shah’s refrain had been that the government will bring in both the CAA and the NRC via the NPR to keep illegal immigrants away, while launching party’s campaign for Delhi elections, Modi distanced the Government from a nationwide NRC. “Lies are being spread,” he had said at a Ramlila rally in December. “From the time my government came in 2014 till today, I want to tell this truth to 130 crore people of this country, that there has been no discussion on NRC. No talk at all.”
(Inputs from Mahender Singh Manral)
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