Riot and riposte: Govt's explanation in Parliament was disingenuous

Indians seeking clarity from the government on the causes, responses, and aftermath of the riots in north-east Delhi, in which 53 people died and over 500 injured, would have been confused by Home Minister Amit Shah’s explanations in the Lok Sabha on March 11. Mr Shah’s 50-minute speech can be best described as a model of mendacity. It apportioned the blame on everyone but his ministry and the Delhi police, which report to him. According to his version, the riots were pre-planned, financed, and mobilised externally (by implication the Muslim community) and the police were exemplars of law enforcement by restoring order in 36 hours. He presented detailed data on first information reports filed, arrests, and other investigations. The gaping contradictions and omissions in his speech were hard to miss. For instance, Mr Shah said he had been so fully engaged with the police during those two fateful days that he missed US President Donald Trump’s visit. This apart, he said the Uttar Pradesh border, through which alleged rioters were infiltrating, were closed on February 24. He added the police limited their operations to 4 per cent of the affected area and 35 paramilitary companies were deployed in riot-hit areas, which is why there was no trouble after February 25.


All of this raises more questions. With such intensive effort, why did it take the police 36 hours to restore order? If the presence of the paramilitary forces ended the trouble after February 25, why weren’t they deployed when the rioting began? Why do victim and eyewitness accounts from both religious persuasions speak of the conspicuous absence of the police? Why did the police records show that thousands of emergency calls went untended? Why did the police prevent ambulances and other transport to access better-equipped hospitals until ordered to do so by the Delhi High Court? How do videos showing the police participating in the violence, destroying CCTV cameras, beating up injured men, and forcing them to sing the national anthem square with Mr Shah’s picture of model law enforcement? Why did the Press Information Bureau on February 25 refer to riots as spontaneous when he says they were pre-planned? Why do two BJP worthies, whose inflammatory speeches must be considered equal offenders as the acts of the scheming rioters, remain at large even as an offending councillor from the Aam Aadmi Party has been arrested?


Though Mr Shah did not deign to address the many doubts raised by opposition MPs, he added another layer of ambiguity to the contentious National Population Register (NPR) exercise, due to begin next month. Anxious perhaps by the unwillingness of allies in states to implement it — including, most recently, Tamil Nadu — he announced that no one would be marked a Doubtful Citizen under the exercise. This, too, is misleading. The NPR does not designate “D-Citizens”; it is the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that does so. Under the Citizenship Act, the NPR is the precursor to the NRC. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had stated that there had been no discussion on the NRC, but did not rule it out. As a means to quell national misgivings on the troubling trinity of Citizenship Amendment Act-NPR-NCR, the proximate cause of the February riots, Mr Shah has failed. His government has much to answer for still.


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