Buck clearly stops at the Center for letting the riot happen in North East Delhi over the last few days. All communities are victims, some more than the other; heart-warming tales of camaraderie abound. The country still remains a box of matches where deliberate provocation can spill blood on the streets in hours, especially if the law enforcement apparatus is toothless when needed. Images portray post-apocalyptic reality as much as a resolve to put it back, together.
It is said that the real picture emerges when the camera pans out. Late last night during live coverage of North East Delhi riots on some Channel, the camera panned out to show post-apocalyptic imagery of smoldering remains of cars, torn down homes, rubbles of mosque, burned-out storefronts – it could have been Raqqa-in-ruins for all you know. You could still make out two men who had just been interviewed – both fruit-sellers whose neighboring shops had been gutted, both had just wailed as charred piles of their livelihood laid in front of them, one Hindu and one Muslim. Out of focus, and out of microphone, two haggard men, pleasures sucked out of their wrinkled eyes sunk in despair and sorrow, reached out, hugged each other and walked away arm-in-arm ready to pick up the pieces, together.
To me that brief visual may have presented an India we know, love and cherish. To the world, it also presented an India not Shining.
Some facts quickly emerge from available accounts in North East Delhi. First, almost all localities had Hindus and Muslims, and others, living next door to each other – cheek by jowl, packed like sardines with little personal space; in other words, they had learned to live with each other. Ramlila processions danced past mosques, morning azans woke up all, Gurdwara langar fed the destitute – all within hundred feet of each other at times. Many residents are still in disbelief that their own corners of peace through cacophony were marred by gunshots and bereft with murderous gangs. Many of these gangs are believed to be outsiders. Accounts tell of crowds gathering to “smoke out infidels” (nee Muslims) in front of houses whose residents are clearly Hindus. Mobs on rampage are said to have stopped media crew to ask for directions before asking them their religion.
Second, stories of camaraderie abound. Hindu families have sheltered Muslims from the rampage, Muslims have ensured safe passage to Hindu children returning home, Dalits have cordoned off blocks to protect residents, Sikh Gurdwaras have opened up their caverns for people of all faiths. Just as we shudder at the bigotry, violence and viciousness – 85-year-old woman too frail to move burned alive in her home, young law enforcement intern stabbed 200 times, fathers out fetching milk for the family cornered and clubbed to death – we cannot underestimate the surfeit of community spirit and concern for their brothers-and-sisters, no matter what faith, that Delhi showed on occasion.
Third, and most disturbing part of the story, is the inaction by Delhi police. Well into the sixth day of turmoil, Delhi Police was conspicuous in its absence, or worse, inaction well within sight of mobs out for blood. Delhi Police reports directly to the Center, specifically to the Ministry of Home Affairs, and it remains to be seen why no orders came for them to spring into action. It is argued that President Trump’s visit kept them busy, but if dozens dead on the streets can not get them make the right choice, nobody can. Police sprung into action last two days, and violence subsided almost to zero, children returned to school, Friday prayers went off peacefully and shop-owners have begun a painful, and painstaking, process of assessing their loss.
Sadly, it shows how easy it is to stoke the violence in the country. Most likely the first flames were caused by inflammatory rhetoric by a failing local politician; a neighboring state governed by a demagogue, and run amuck with politico-religious militias with his blessings, may have provided the bodies who carried swords, stick, and guns looking for residents of a particular faith. Once started, violence took a life of its own, engulfing homes, businesses, and most importantly, people.
Most importantly, the buck clearly stops at the Center. Ministry of Home Affairs directly commands Delhi Police, a senior member was present at the time the first set of incendiary comments was made. No senior member of the Government, or their party, has condemned the incendiary speech; as of today, no action has been taken against the politician. The first visible presence of the Long Arm of the Government on the ground came on Day Four, arguably NSA Doval’s first-hand assessment put Police on notice, but it was too late. In a move that reeks of conspiracy, or at best nonchalance, a Judge in Delhi High Court, and one who proved critical of Government’s response, was transferred out right in the middle of these developments.
The night when the Indian Navy band was playing “Can you feel the love, tonight” for visiting US President Trump at the State Banquet, only scorn, neglect and inflamed old wounds were visible to hapless residents of North East Delhi.
That is an image India must work to avoid. Many have started seeing parallels to Gujarat in 2002, where a State Government led by Modi proved too weak, worse unwilling, at least unable, to prevent deaths of a thousand Muslims from riotous Hindu mobs. Supreme Court has since given Mr. Modi a clean cheat, but the stigma continues and rankles even today. Now that he carries the weight of the nation, the nation also wants to know why his administration looked like it engendered a repeat – thankfully nowhere to the level of Gujarat – of the same. India must not forget that the West is desperately in search of a replacement of Chinese sweatshops, and possibly a counterweight to Chinese hegemony brought to its doorsteps. China that imprisons with impunity a million Muslims, chokes off criticism in all forms inside, and, despite autocratic cravings cannot stop pandemic outbreaks with alarming regularity. More than anything else, an image of India as a tolerant, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, colorful and cacophonic country of peace and prosperity helps its cause. It is a Shining India. An India not Shining is an India that provokes violence in the name of faith. An India that is unapologetically majoritarian. An India that I do not remember growing up in.
An India not Shining is not an India that is winning. Surely you do not want that Mr. Modi, do you?
[Partha Chakraborty, Ph.D., CFA is an entrepreneur in Water technologies, Blockchain and Wealth Management in US and India. All opinions are of the Author alone, and do not necessarily represent that of any organization he may be part of. The author alone is responsible for any error or omission]