14.03.2020 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On Riots in Delhi


Since 24 February this year, a series of riots have taken place in the course of several days in the northeastern part of Delhi, the capital of India. The scale and consequences of these riots (47 dead, hundreds of wounded, 1,500 people detained by the police, financial losses) already give reason to compare them with earlier events, the main participants of which were also Hindus and Muslims.

In particular, this calls back to the consequences of the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhiya, Uttar Pradesh back in 1992 and the 2002 Gujarat riots. The number of casualties in each of these events is estimated to have been 2,000.

The Delhi riots are currently under investigation and the official announcement of the verdict is hardly expected any time soon. However, there are some things one can be more or less certain of today.

First of all, it is quite obvious that the reason for the riots is the fact that, on December 10 of last year, amendments to the 1955 Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) were adopted, which has been discussed many times in New Eastern Outlook.

The Act itself is long overdue to bring order to the process of granting Indian citizenship status to several million refugees from neighboring countries (primarily Bangladesh and Pakistan). Many of the refugees have been outside India for decades and have been persecuted, not only at the domestic level, but also by state authorities.

But there were no Muslims on the list of people of different faiths covered by the CAA, which provoked street protests, and it’s important to emphasize that quite a large part of Indians joined in. The latter saw the Act as a threat of religious division and a general shift away from the secularism of the country, which was secured at the time of the founding of present-day India.

It would be wrong to support the harsh assessments of those Indian experts and political opponents of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who are accused of almost deliberately provoking inter-religious enmity because of its decline in popularity. The opposition has already made demands in Parliament for the resignation of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Home Affairs.

True, the BJP was involved in the events of 1992, and the Gujarat riots happened during Modi’s leadership of this state. But since 2014, BJP has been leading the entire country and is serving its second consecutive electoral term. Like no other political force, the BJP must be interested in maintaining stability throughout the country. In the course of the beginning of the protests, Modi made a very important statement about the ‘organic integration’ of Muslims into the history and culture of India.

As for the decline in popularity, it manifested itself during the Legislative Assembly elections of the capital district on February 8 this year. It’s worth recalling that 8 months earlier, during the general parliamentary elections (i.e. before the adoption of the CAA), the BJP claimed all 7 seats in Delhi.

The leadership of the BJP and the government of India hardly could have predicted the costs of the series of legislative acts adopted last year, although their scale was almost certainly underestimated. In addition, the Central Government was under pressure from a number of states to remove Muslims from the list of refugees applying for citizenship, with Assam even issuing an ultimatum for this.

Also important is the general historical background of relations between Hindus and Muslims. However, as noted above, earlier BJP itself participated in its formation. To be fair though, back then it held the status of an insignificant force of opposition.

That is, the current Central Government can to a certain extent be seen as a hostage, a victim and, at the same time, a culprit of the creation of circumstances of this ‘challengingly powerful force’, which, this time, showcased its strength in Delhi.

Secondly, it hardly seems like a coincidence that another outbreak of unrest (in the capital, no less) coincides with the official visit to India of the head of the world’s leading nation, Donald Trump. Said visit is extremely important for the Prime Minister and the BJP. Perhaps more ‘competent’ services have some information on this subject, but they are not freely available.

Though one cannot but notice the intention which was voiced publicly after the riots—to expel five ‘foreigners’ (who took part in demonstrations against CAA) from the country.

By the way, it must also be noted that it isn’t just Modi who has enemies; Trump has enough of those in the USA as well.

However, if it becomes known (not necessarily publicly) that a ‘third party’ was behind the scenes of the recent events in Delhi, it still won’t be possible to consider it the basic cause of the bloody riots.

True success in the projects developed by hired political and technological specialists can be seen only in one case: if some ‘suitable’ conditions have formed inside the object of the planned attack. As noted above, such conditions, alas, are present in today’s India.

It has been repeatedly pointed out that there is a variety of sources and reasons for the formation of fault lines in this vast country with its complex structure. Of these, the one based on the fundamental incompatibility between the teachings of Islam and Hinduism is potentially the most dangerous.

However, the problem of organizing peaceful coexistence of large groups adhering to different religions is global in nature and hasn’t had a completely successful solution anywhere. De jure, the issues of functioning of religious organizations and religions in general are taken out of state administration in most nations.

But de facto, the picture looks different. For one, in India, when the BJP came to power in 2014, no formal changes were made to the originally secular state structure. But the tendency towards a greater role for Hinduism in society has become evident.

It seems that the country’s leadership is beginning to realize the serious consequences of this trend, as evidenced, in particular, by the above complimentary words from Modi to the Muslim population.

The matter is not limited to words, however. At the beginning of March, the Chief Minister of the State of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee stated that all Bangladeshis who left their homeland will receive the status of citizens of India.

This is a good sign that the leadership is moving in the right direction. One can only wish India, Russia’s trusted ally, success in this endeavor.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.