New Delhi: Union Home Minister Amit Shah Wednesday spoke for the first time on the riots in Northeast Delhi last month, in which he said “52 Indians” were killed and 526 injured. Shah praised the Delhi Police for “effectively containing the riot within 36 hours”, blamed a “pre-planned conspiracy”, and promised to punish the perpetrators and make them pay for the damage sustained.
Shah was speaking in the Lok Sabha, replying to questions on the riots that the opposition had raised earlier in the day.
The tensions in Northeast Delhi began on the evening of 23 February, escalating into a full-blown riot that lasted 48 hours, with armed mobs running amok burning shops, vehicles and beating up people. Witnesses said Delhi Police and other security forces did not act in time in some places to tackle the rioters.
“Controlling and putting a full stop to riots in just 36 hours in a dense area is a very difficult task. I must say that Delhi Police did a commendable job. The first information about a riot-like situation was received on 24 February and last input was on 25 February at 11 pm,” Shah said.
“The police were struggling but did not give up. I will congratulate them and praise them for not allowing the riot to spread to other parts of Delhi,” he added.
Rioters won’t be spared
Shah insisted that rioters will not be spared, adding that the people who have indulged in violence will have to pay the cost of the damage they did. He said the government will make sure their properties are seized.
The government has written to the Delhi High Court to set up a claims commission in this regard.
“A lot of property has been destroyed in the riots. We have written to Delhi HC to set up a claims commission. Whoever has done the damage will be identified and all of their property will be seized,” Shah said.
The home minister also alleged that the riots were a “pre-planned conspiracy”, adding that the police have registered a case of conspiracy and are investigating the matter.
“It is not possible to arrange such a riot without a plan, a conspiracy,” Shah said.
He alleged that money was pumped in by organisations and individuals to finance the riot.
“We have records of how much money was brought to Delhi through hawala. The Delhi Police have arrested people in this regard, and further investigation will divulge more on this,” he said.
Taking a dig at Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi without naming her, Shah stated that the riot was instigated because of the speech given by a few leaders. He gave a chronology of how speeches by opposition leaders and others first led to the protest at Shaheen Bagh, and eventually, the riots.
He first mentioned the Congress’ 14 December Bharat Bachao Rally, and how it played a role in “starting the protest at Shaheen Bagh and instigating people”.
“There was an anti-CAA rally in Ramlila Maidan on 14 December, in which people were asked to come out of their homes for a fight. Aar-paar ki ladai ki baat boli. Yeh kaha ki abhi nahin nikloge toh kayar kehlaoge. (A do-or-die battle was mentioned. It was said if you don’t come out now, you’ll be called a coward). Is this not hate speech?” Shah said, adding that the “Shaheen Bagh (protest) started on 16 December”.
Shah claimed that on 17 February, a group named United Against Hate came up, instigating people to come out on the streets during US President Donald Trump’s visit.
“On 19 February again, an individual gave a statement saying ‘jo cheez maangne nahin milti, woh chheenni padti hai. Hum 15 crore hain par 100 crore par bhari padenge’ (What isn’t given upon asking has to be snatched. We are 15 crore but we’ll outmuscle 100 crore),” Shah said, referring to a speech given by All India Majlis-e-Ittihadul Muslimeen leader Waris Pathan. “And then started the sit-in protest on 23 February which then turned into a riot on 24 February.”
Shah said many pro-CAA rallies were organised across the country before 23 February, but no incident of violence was reported from anywhere.
“It is wrong to say that when people who are pro-CAA came out, violence began. A lot of these rallies have happened in the past; I have been a part of most of them, and no violence broke out anywhere,” he said.
Shah also brought up the 1984 riots, saying 3,000 Sikhs were killed under the Congress regime.
‘CAA not discriminatory’
Reiterating that the CAA is not discriminatory in nature and cannot take away citizenship from any individual, whether a Hindu or a Muslim, Shah said these were attempts to politicise the issue.
He claimed many laws had been drafted based on religion earlier, even during the Congress-led UPA’s tenure, and it was nothing new.
“Which clause says citizenship will be taken away? There is no such clause. Youth and minorities are being misled, brainwashed,” he alleged.
“This is not the first law based on religion. Anyone who has questions on the act can come to my chamber and I will give all the answers.”
Last month, Shah had given a similar open invitation to Shaheen Bagh protesters. However, when a delegation tried to march to his office, it was stopped by the Delhi Police.
‘I requested Doval to go on ground’
Shah claimed that it was he who asked National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to go to the troubled spots and boost the morale of the police and people on 26 February.
“I asked Ajit Doval to go and boost the morale of the police. I did not go myself because I did not want the police to get busy with my travel arrangements. I wanted them to be on the ground and concentrate on policing… at that time their job was to maintain law and order,” he said.
Dismissing the allegations that he was busy with Trump’s visit while Delhi was burning, Shah said he was with the Delhi Police, constantly monitoring the situation and chairing meetings.
“I was with the Delhi Police. I did not even go for the dinner arranged by the Prime Minister. On 24 February at 7 pm, I was holding review meetings, and was constantly monitoring the situation,” Shah said.
He added that it was a conscious decision was taken to not discuss the riots in Parliament before Holi, as it was a vulnerable time and may have incited people’s sentiments.
700 FIRs registered, 40 teams on the job
Shah said the Delhi Police are on the job 24 hours a day to arrest the people who indulged in the violence, and are taking assistance from technical teams.
He said 700 FIRs have been filed, and 2,647 people have been arrested and detained.
“Technical teams have been roped in and they are monitoring 25 computers where CCTV footage accessed from various locations is being analysed,” he said.
Shah also said the police have identified 1,100 people who were involved in the violence with the help of scientific evidence.
“We have accessed their data and they have been identified. Forty teams are on the job to make the arrests. More than 300 people had come from UP, and raids are on to arrest them,” Shah said.
He also said that there were over 60 social media accounts that started on 22 February and were shut down on 26 February. These accounts, Shah said, are suspected to have been made to mobilise the rioters.
“Several persons have been identified from these accounts. Twenty-five cases have also been registered under the IT Act,” he said. “These riots will be a lesson for those who indulge in the violence like this.”
Dismissing claims that the rioters outnumbered the policemen on duty while the riot was on, Shah said that sufficient force was deployed in the area.
He said between 22 and 23 February, over 17 companies of the Delhi Police and 13 companies of other forces were deployed. By 25 February, he said over 50 companies (including over 5,000 personnel) were deployed in the area.
“Almost 80 companies are still deployed in the area. Is this not sufficient?” he said.
Tribute to those killed
Shah also paid tribute to the people who were killed in the riots.
“It was very unfortunate. I pay my tribute to all those who lost their lives in riots in Delhi, and my condolences are with their grieving families. I also extend my sympathies to the people who lost their shops and houses in the riots,” Shah said.