Did Modi-Shah differences decide the timing of the Delhi riots?

Was it an attempt to disgrace the government during the visit of US President Donald Trump?

PM Narendra Modi with Home Minister Amit Shah (file photo, PTI)
PM Narendra Modi with Home Minister Amit Shah (file photo, PTI)

Faraz Ahmad

The communal riots in the thickly populated North-East Delhi, which commenced on the eve of US President Donald Trump’s two-day visit to India, stopped suddenly almost coinciding with Trump and First Lady Melania emplaning to fly out of the national capital.

Just as the violence-threatening speech of BJP leader and former MLA Kapil Mishra, a day before Trump’s arrival, triggered the riots, killing more than 30 people, including police head constable Rattan Lal, it stopped suddenly, not through any effort or action of Union Home Minister Amit Shah but the visit of the Prime Minister’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval to the riot-prone areas and interacting with the police officers in the field there.

Of course, the police came down heavily, lathi charging and water-cannoning the students of JNU and Jamia on Wednesday who went all the way to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's house to protest about his inaction and inability to intervene at such a crucial time, even when the populace which bore the brunt of that more-than-72-hour-long violence, were largely those who voted for his AAP against the BJP a few weeks earlier and contributed to his overwhelming victory. Never mind that the Delhi Police is under the administrative control of the central government - in effect, Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

Throughout the day on Tuesday, the police’s communal partisanship was evident and proven by the blatant statement of Special Commissioner of Police (CP) (Law and Order) Satish Golcha leading the force there, when asked why he did not employ equal force in Bhajanpura from where the reporters witnessed the stone-pelting to have started as compared to Chand Bagh. He replied to a reporter pointing his finger at Chand Bagh, “Those people are the aggressors. I saw it myself yesterday night. The people on the other side (Bhajanpura) are carrying weapons for self-defence. I know they will not attack me when I speak to them, but I can’t say the same when dealing with the other side.”

This is just to highlight Police partisanship or rather complicity as the violence, provoked by Kapil Mishra on Sunday, continued through Monday and Monday-Tuesday night to Tuesday evening and even later, even as there was appeal to the Union Home Minister from political leaders and others for putting an end to this mayhem, reminding one to some extent of the police partisanship in the Gujarat 2002 pogrom of Muslims. But if the green signal had come from the top, meaning the Prime Minister himself as it did when Narendra Modi was the Gujarat Chief Minister, why would Doval be despatched to put an end to it?

Some analysts with highly placed sources claimed that Modi let the RSS/BJP cadres vent their anger over the anti-CAA peaceful protests in different parts of the city that they have been resenting all along. And once they had their fill under visible police protection, Doval was despatched to put a full stop, which he seemed to have done successfully.

However that still does not explain if they waited for nearly two months now and had petitioned the Supreme Court against Shaheen Bagh, why should they choose to strike exactly at the moment Trump arrived in India and suddenly stop around the time he left on Tuesday night. One explanation again from sources close to BJP leaders was that Modi wanted to cock a snook at Trump. Considering the kind of preparation he made for this two-day visit, where he would not even brook Trump viewing the ugly dirty slum side of Ahmedabad, it is implausible to believe that he would deliberately do something to sully his image in the eyes of the world outside, including the US, where naturally questions would be raised and Trump himself will be asked about this.

This level of mass action with police complicity, as is obvious, could not have carried on in the national Capital without some green signal from top echelons of the national power structure, meaning it could not have happened without either Modi or the Union Home Minister’s consent or rather go ahead. In this case, since he did despatch Doval to stop this, it seems this happened in spite of him rather than because of him, especially when a day earlier Kapil Mishra had announced that he would wait for the Trump visit to conclude. Why then was the commencement of action from Mishra and his supporters advanced? He is a relatively new entrant to the BJP, and at one time as AAP MLA, he had regaled the Delhi Assembly with the Modi snoopgate or Stalkgate scandal involving a young architect, widely reported in the media then. So he won’t risk annoying or embarrassing Modi now that he has nowhere to go except the BJP unless he got the green signal from someone as important as Amit Shah.

It is interesting to observe that throughout the two-day Trump extravaganza, Amit Shah was not seen in any picture, even as picture of people much lower down in the Sanghi hierarchy like Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal and of course his peer Ajit Doval were prominently displayed showing how he was sidelined in this show and relegated to the position to go as an advance party to Ahmedabad to inspect and supervise arrangements for Trump a day earlier.

This is the same Shah, who not too long ago could push aside the newly appointed BJP president J P Nadda and would alone accompany the Prime Minister to wave from the parapet at the admiring crowds during the Delhi Assembly campaign. It does give rise to speculation that perhaps all is not well between Modi and Shah. But any confirmation of this may not come soon.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own

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