Wounded Delhi limps to a tense calm after mobs turn it into battleground

People in Khajauri Khas area of northeast Delhi leaving their houses on Wednesday. Photo | PTI
A badly wounded Delhi began limping back to a semblance of normalcy on Wednesday with crisp directives to the government by the high court, immediate intervention by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and an appeal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for peace in the northeastern part of the city that has seen communal violence in the past two days.

Paramilitary forces like the Central Industrial Security Force, the Sashastra Seema Bal, usually deployed on the India-Nepal Land border, and the Indo Tibetan Border Police were pressed into service to conduct a flag march.

Residents were asked to stay indoors as the death toll rose to 22. Among those dead was an officer of the Intelligence Bureau whose body was found in a drain.

Doval made a presentation to the Cabinet Committee on Security and undertook a tour of northeast Delhi.

Many families, fearful of another round of violence, simply locked up their homes and left, intending to return when the situation returned to normal. Closer scrutiny of arson suggested businesses were attacked selectively.

Modi sought calm and asked citizens not to take the law into their hands, pleading for peace and brotherhood. But the star of the show was the Delhi High Court that issued many directives to the government — to ensure maximum dignity in conducting the last rites of the dead, 

‘Z-plus type’ security for residents, 24X7 telephone helpline number and adequate policing.

NSA Ajit Doval said the situation was under control after he visited the affected areas. He later briefed Home Minister Amit Shah on the situation. Photo | PTI

The court made the government — represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta — listen to videos of hate speeches, and asked the Delhi Police to examine by Friday the speeches of Union Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur, MP Parvesh Sharma, BJP leader Kapil Mishra and Delhi BJP MLA Abhay Verma made over the last few weeks and, if necessary, file FIRs against them.

A division Bench of Justice S Muralidhar and Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani also asked some of the highest functionaries in the state and the central governments to meet the victims and their families, and slated the matter for Friday.

“We cannot let another 1984 scenario (anti-Sikh riots) happen in this country again. Not under the watch of this court,” the Bench said.

The court also expressed concern over the reports regarding the killing of an Intelligence Bureau (IB) officer and termed it “very unfortunate”. It also directed to set up helpline desks for immediate help to victims and directed that private ambulances should be provided for safe passage of victims.

Stressing the need to rebuild confidence, the high court said this is the time to reach out to people and assure them. “It must be done as soon as possible,” said the Bench. The court also directed to set up shelters for the victims with basic facilities such as blankets, medicines, food, and sanitation on a war footing, and said that night shelters and community halls shall also be used for the same.

The high court also appointed advocate Zubeda Begum as amicus curiae to coordinate between victims and various agencies in the matter related to medical assistance and safe passage of the victims.

The court, while hearing a petition seeking directions to the Delhi Police to provide medical assistance to the injured, also appreciated how swiftly the Delhi Police acted.

In a rare press conference, interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi blamed both the Arvind Kejriwal government and Union Home Minister Amit Shah for the situation and demanded Shah’s resignation for having failed the people of Delhi. This immediately had minister like Ravi Shankar Prasad retorting that the Congress should consider its own role in 1984 before pointing fingers at others.

Gandhi also convened a meeting of the Congress Working Committee.

While it may take time for normal life to resume, it did not seem as if the situation will be allowed to slip again. Section 144 continues to be in force in northeast Delhi.

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