The swift shutdown of West Delhi by scared citizens and the mobilisation of vigilante squads on Sunday on rumours of fresh rioting reveal the depths of mistrust embedded in denizens of Delhi for each other and for state security institutions. This febrile suspicion will be the enduring legacy of the three-day riot in East Delhi over February 22-24, unless steps are taken to restore faith in state institutions. This includes the Delhi police, whose conspicuous absence and then active cooperation with rioting mobs are now well established, and the Union government, whose writ extends to the police, the political leadership, and the judicial system. More than a week after the riots, there are sporadic and unconvincing signs that the apparatus of law and order is working smoothly and impartially.
To be sure, the Delhi police, now headed by S N Srivastava, a former special commissioner of law and order, are working hard to win the hearts and minds of the people. Photos of smiling cops distributing roses to students appearing for the board exams in Khajuri Khas, ground zero of the riots, offer a heart-warming contrast to the grim images of desolation and destruction that is north-east Delhi. Mr Srivastava’s colleagues also moved swiftly to use the TV networks to dispel Sunday’s rumours and those suspected of spreading them have been arrested. After more than two months, Section 144 has been imposed in Shaheen Bagh to disperse the long-running protest and unblock roads. Over 1,000 people have been arrested so far, according to information relayed by the police public relations cell, and about 335 First Information Reports filed. Two special investigation teams have also been set up. This flurry of activity, however, cannot be considered reassuring, not least because it resembles the post-riot playbook from 1984 and 2002. All of the key players in fuelling the riots remain at large and untouched. Kapil Mishra, whose comments certainly played a role in stirring up trouble, and Ved Prakash Surya, the deputy police commissioner, who stood mutely beside Mr Mishra must surely bear some culpability. The Bharatiya Janata Party has taken no action against Mr Mishra, even as the Aam Aadmi Party promptly suspended councillor Tahir Hussain for his alleged role in the murder of an Intelligence Bureau employee. The fact that the police have been unable to arrest Mr Hussain, now AWOL, is testimony to its ineptitude. On his part, Union Home Minister Amit Shah quickly shifted focus and accused West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of “triggering riots” and “burning trains” to oppose the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA).
Taken together with a tepid prime ministerial tweet to his “brothers and sisters” for peace and harmony, three days after the riots began, and the midnight, mid-case transfer of a high court judge who pressured the police to do their job are scarcely reassuring. All of this undermines the reassurances by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval during his televised recce of riot-hit areas. Now, as rudimentary shelters for the displaced come up, the question of compensation has, ironically, run up against the spark for the riots: The CAA and the related impending National Population Register
(NPR) exercise. Many are unwilling to fill in compensation forms for fear that the information would be fed into the NPR database. In other words, as long as the CAA remains on the statute books and the NPR goes ahead, Indians, not just Delhi-ites, will continue to mistrust one another.