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Shah of Delhi's misery

Updated on: 02 March,2020 04:58 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Ajaz Ashraf |

It is impossible not to view Home Minister Amit Shah as being at the root of the tragic happenings in the Capital, from birthing a flammable law to ensuring its embers are constantly fanned

Shah of Delhi's misery

Demonstrators hold placards during a peace march to protest against the communal violence in Northeast Delhi, at Jantar Mantar. Pic /PTI

Media outlets have been drawing up a list of those responsible for knifing Delhi, which thrashed around and bled profusely for over 48 hours last week.

Missing from the list of most is the person who should have been at the top of it: Home Minister Amit Shah, the master of heartless political tactics, otherwise known as Chanakya-niti, who is also an aficionado of classical music. The inaction of the Delhi Police, even as Delhiites burnt and killed, must be blamed on Shah, as it is to him they report.

Yet Shah's culpability runs deeper than the collapse of the city's policing system. He created the ambience in which the police could not but fail. This he did by identifying the citizenship issue as the most combustible portion of the Hindutva ideological firewood, lit it through his fiery rhetoric, and diligently fanned the flames on his countrywide tours.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), Shah said, will be enacted to grant citizenship to non-Muslims who came from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan before preparing a National Register of Citizens (NRC). Infiltrators, also identified as termites, will then be thrown out of India, he swore. Muslims knew the infiltrator-termite comparison referred to them.

Shah's view on the NRC was articulated by other Bharatiya Janata Party leaders too. But his power, his choice of words, and his past gave a chilling, sinister edge to the citizenship debate, which conveyed to the Muslims the existential crisis awaiting them. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his government had no plans to implement the NRC, Shah changed his tune to say that the CAA is designed to grant citizenship to non-Muslims, not to take it away from Muslims.

Why did he link the CAA to the NRC earlier? Was he merely deriving a sadistic pleasure in scaring the Muslims? The enactment of the CAA, in December, made Muslims believe the apocalypse, as Shah had been threatening, had come. This goaded Jamia Millia Islamia students to protest, only to be brutally set upon by Shah's police. All the mellifluous songs of Bhimsen Joshi, whom Shah reportedly listens to regularly, could not inspire in him the spirit of reconciliation, to reach out to Shaheen Bagh's women who had, out of their fear of the apocalypse, occupied a road.

Shah, in fact, saw them as ammunition he could use to conquer Delhi. "Press the [EVM] button with such anger that current is felt at Shaheen Bagh," he thundered late January in Babarpur, which was licked by last week's conflagration. Current was a codeword for electrocution. A verdict in the BJP's favour, Shah's remark subliminally suggested, would lead to the violent expulsion of the protestors from Shaheen Bagh.

I listened to Shah's speeches, delivered on January 24, in Musatafabad, Karawal Nagar, and Gokalpuri, all three the sites where the Delhiites displayed ineffable barbarity. In each of those speeches, Shah described the showdown between the police and citizens over the CAA as "danga" or riot. "If you give them [Opposition] the reins [of Delhi], your safety will only be left to Ishwar," he said.

Since Delhiites rebuffed the BJP, its sidekick, Kapil Mishra, decided not to leave the city's safety to Ishwar. He threatened to hit the streets in case the anti-CAA protesters were not evicted from the road they had occupied in northeast Delhi. This plunged that district into mayhem. Trounced in the elections, Mishra was seeking relevance in a party in which Shah commands enormous powers. Ask the question: Would not the purveyor of hate be pleased to find an imitator?

Variations of this question could have also paralysed Delhi Police officers. Their careers depend on Shah, whose wont is to demonise Muslims. Will the boss penalise cops who refuse to protect those he himself depicts as demons? Will they not have recalled the fate of some officers who conscionably prevented the outbreak of riots in Gujarat, in 2002, on their watch? The contagion of hate would have anyway afflicted a segment of the Delhi police into inaction. Belatedly goaded into action, it has not booked Mishra, but it has Aam Aadmi Party corporator Tahir Hussain for his alleged role in the murder of an Intelligence Bureau official. Hussain will now become, in the media narrative, an archetype of the Muslim community's hatred for the Hindus, for its propensity to shed blood — the home minister's depiction of demons must not be proved hollow.

Other home ministers, in the past, have paid dearly for the breakdown of law and order. When cow-protection groups attacked Parliament on Nov 7, 1966, and eight people died in the ensuing violence, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sacked Home Minister Gulzarilal Nanda. In 2008, Home Minister Shivraj Patil had to resign for his gross mishandling of the Mumbai terror attack. Let us call a spade a spade: Delhi bled because of Shah, against whom only the dead can dare testify. Wonder what notes he hears in Bhimsen Joshi's songs.

The writer is a senior journalist

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