This moment is one that Delhi, centrepiece of the world’s largest democracy now claiming a shinier spotlight on the world stage, had not thought could come again. After all, large-scale communal violence was a thing of the past in this city. Admittedly, there were still eruptions, but they were aberrations in a darker hinterland, away from the bright lights of India’s capital. That confidence, that complacency, stands shattered by the violence that convulsed northeastern parts of the metropolis over at least three days, leaving at least 27 dead, and many times that number injured. Since Sunday, the terrible fact is also this: Violence sparked by the new citizenship law has taken a higher toll in Delhi than even across Uttar Pradesh, which saw people’s agitation and a brutal police crackdown by the Yogi Adityanath government in December. Given that the several anti-CAA protests across the country have been overwhelmingly law-abiding and peaceful, the violence that raged seemingly unchecked in Delhi takes the death toll to over 50 in the eight months since the Narendra Modi government returned to power last May and poses grave questions that need urgent answers.
Soon after President Donald Trump flew back to America, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visited affected areas but this visible monitoring and outreach arrived late to the crime scenes. On Wednesday, too, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted an appeal for restoration of “peace and brotherhood” and “calm and normalcy”. On Wednesday, again, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal suggested to the Centre that the Army could be called in. The inexplicable pusillanimity of the recently re-elected AAP government in this moment will remain a blot on its record. But far more than the AAP, which sought to toss the ball to the Centre when it was not striking a pose at Rajghat, it is Delhi Police, which reports to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, that will carry the stain. Over the last few days, as violence raged and lives were lost, the very modern and pampered police force, which went on an unprovoked rampage on the campus in Jamia Millia Islamia and looked on as goons invaded JNU, appeared to be absent, complicit or ineffective. It even needed the Delhi High Court to, in a post-midnight ruling, direct the police to give safe passage to the injured to hospitals and to register FIRs against those whose hate speech may have fuelled the violence, without delay.
It is the delay that will hang in the air, when all is calm again. Delay that the ruling party deploys as political tactic and strategy. Delay that allows a part of a city to burn before action is taken or a political intervention is made. Delay that sharpens minority fears and anxieties about a discriminatory law and gives room for majoritarianism to swell and grow. Delay that provides, nurtures, the space for hate speech, and for gruesome images and videos of communal polarisation and poison to spread and echo. The violence in Delhi will, it must, die down. But it will take sustained political effort and wisdom to make the scars of delay fade away. That’s the task ahead.