So, after six months of exhaustive investigation into the Delhi riots, the Delhi Police has discovered that its boss was, after all, right.
On 11 March 2020, speaking on the floor of Lok Sabha, Home Minister Amit Shah had already pronounced his verdict on what caused the Delhi riots. Shifting radically from his first statement that these riots were spontaneous, he now claimed to know that the riots were part of a deep conspiracy linked to anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests. He quoted a speech by student leader Umar Khalid and named his organisation United Against Hate as the key conspirator. The main victims of the Delhi riots were its real perpetrators.
This is exactly what the Special Cell of the Delhi Police has obediently discovered in its massive charge sheet filed in FIR 59/2020 on 16 September. This is the mother of all charge sheets, awaited for months. It offers the meta narrative that connects over 700 specific FIRs. This is the only case that invokes the dreaded Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), meant to protect the sovereignty of the country. Going by the standard wisdom of Indian exams (weight matters more than content), the charge sheet is indeed impressive: about 17,000 pages, with the main narrative running into 2,600 pages! No less than 10 GB data to say that THE BOSS IS ALWAYS RIGHT.
The plot was given. The script had to be worked out. Evidence needed to be manufactured. A lot of evidence staring everyone in the face to be erased. Dialogues and other creatives to be inserted. That is what the charge sheet dutifully does, assuming that the readers, and eventually the courts, will be willing to suspend disbelief.
Writing a grand farce
Here is what the Delhi Police wants us to believe: Hindu-Muslim riots and large-scale violence in the national capital in February were planned nearly three months in advance, a beta version was tried out first, the model was improvised in the light of lessons learnt, a mega cover was invented, site of violence carefully selected, and finally the design executed in northeast Delhi during and after US President Donald Trump’s visit. I used to think that Marxist theorists specialised in imagining grand conspiracies by the ruling class, but the Delhi Police beats them hollow.
Who planned the riots? Student leader Umar Khalid, who has been under physical protection, and presumably electronic surveillance of the Delhi Police since 2018, managed to design and execute the riots right under the nose of the Delhi Police. Did you say: What was the Delhi Police doing? How come Umar Khalid hardly spent any time in Delhi in the months of January and February? Why did the police’s Special Cell not interrogate this key conspirator before the charge sheet was prepared? Why was he arrested and taken in police remand on 14 September? Now, don’t allow petty facts to disturb a good story.
Who was the co-conspirator? The charge sheet would have you believe that Sharjeel Imam, another JNU student, was the key collaborator, who started a WhatsApp group of Muslim students of JNU, initiated and sustained Shaheen Bagh — all on instruction from his “mentor” Umar Khalid. Never mind the fact that Umar and Sharjeel are ideologically poles apart. Both of them are Muslim student leaders after all. How could they not be in league? Never mind the opposition of the local community to Sharjeel’s initial suggestion about setting up Shaheen Bagh (a fact recorded in the charge sheet). Never mind the local women’s decision to continue their protest after Sharjeel’s unilateral announcement to withdraw Shaheen Bagh. These are Muslim women, after all. How could they act on their own?
How was the grand conspiracy disseminated and acted upon? The Delhi Police wants you to believe that this clandestine operation was carried out through a WhatsApp group, Delhi Protest Support Group (DPSG). Ever heard of large-scale violence being planned over a period of three months by over 100 persons on a WhatsApp group that can be accessed by the police and government? How come the key conspirators were either absent or silent in this WhatsApp group? Was there a single anti-Hindu or anti-Muslim reference or any incitement to violence in this group?
Journalists who went through 3,000 pages of chats of this group concluded that they had “not found any direct reference to incitement of violence before, during or after the riots”. The one chat, a week before the riots, that refers to the possibility of communal violence, has no one believing it, let alone endorsing it. You could say they were naïve, but is that the same thing as criminal conspiracy?
The ‘role’ of anti-CAA protests
Where does the anti-CAA movement fit into this grand narrative? If you go by it, the pan-India movement against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, spread over three months, with public meetings, protests, 24×7 sit-ins, and massive rallies was nothing but a cover to orchestrate riots in Delhi. Yes, that’s what the charge sheet says: the protests provided “a gender cover, secular cover and media cover” to the quiet planning for riots. The reading of the Preamble, images of Gandhi and Ambedkar, creative expression by poets and artists merely “cloaked protests that were inherently communal, with a façade of secularism, human rights and democratic liberties”. Shouldn’t “inherently communal” protests say at least a few words against a community? Now you are spoiling a good story.
And what about some inherently secular videos by Kapil Mishra and Ragini Tiwari and videos of many BJP minions who were no doubt restoring law and order during the Delhi riots? How come the chronology missed out on the speeches given by honorable union ministers such as Anurag Thakur during the same period calling upon the public to respect the human rights of “desh ke gaddaron (country’s traitors)”? And how about the Boss himself, who in the spirit of democratic liberties, asked the voters of Delhi to send a current that reaches Shaheen Bagh? It seems the Delhi Police was too focused on the ‘real’ conspirators to even mention such attempts to promote secularism, human rights and democratic liberties in these thousands of pages.
A new national entertainment
The parody could go on and on. But in fairness and in the spirit of full disclosure, I must say something about the many references to me in this charge sheet, without naming me as an accused. I am shown (literally, with a colour photo and captions) to be present in one of the original conspiracy meetings with Umar Khalid and Sharjeel Imam. I wish they had cared to ask me once about it or read a media report about that so-called meeting, a non-starter since most invitees did not turn up. They could have focused their creative attention on some other meeting. I am also supposed to have boasted on 25 February, the day of riots: “Hamara mission kaamyaab hua hai. Ye dange karwa kar hamne apni strength central government ko dikha di hai” (Our mission has succeeded. By engineering these riots we have shown our strength to the central government”).
Now, I must register my protest at being given a Mogambo dialogue; my character deserved a better line. Clearly, the Delhi Police is terribly short of research assistance, for they forgot to look up my Facebook and Twitter account for those days where I appealed to the protesters not to hold a protest during Trump’s visit, where I spoke to women protesters in Jaffrabad-Seelampur requesting them to lift their road blockade. They did not even look at the resolution passed in the meeting of 25 February itself. Despite taking six months, the Delhi Police were short of time, because they did not speak to me even once.
Now that the Sushant Singh Rajput serial on news television is nearing its end and proxy election campaign is about to give way to the real campaign in Bihar, this charge sheet opens a new potential for national entertainment. Be ready for this C-grade script to be played out in a sensational comedy season on news TV. I don’t grudge some entertainment to the nation, if only to drown the sorrows of the pandemic, job loss and the Chinese occupation of our land. I wish the Delhi Police had better script-writers.
The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.
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