The arrest of former JNU student leader and controversial activist Umar Khalid under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, or UAPA, in connection with the Delhi riots has given a new turn to the heightened security concerns. The Delhi Police’s charge sheet mentions his attempts to gather people to oppose the visit of US President Donald Trump to Delhi early this year. The protests, according to the police, were aimed at drawing international attention to highlight the so-called “persecution of minorities” under the Narendra Modi government.
In the background of the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), an untoward incident during a high-profile visit would have certainly shown India in poor light. It now appears that the entire agenda of the anti-CAA protests and the riots were part of a series of conspiracies to defame the Modi government and engineer serious disruptions of normal life resulting in the breakdown of law and order.
It was clear that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) under Amit Shah wasn’t going to forget the issue. The Delhi Police was probably instructed to go into the root of the protests, investigate the real agenda behind the riots, track down the perpetrators and take appropriate action at the right time. It was important for the police to conduct a detailed inquiry and collect as much proof as possible to make a fool-proof case so as to not let the notorious elements get away on technical grounds or for want of sufficient evidence.
UAPA in Bengaluru too
Umar Khalid, arrested by the Delhi Police’s Special Cell under the stringent UAPA, is also mentioned in a charge sheet filed by the Delhi Police against former Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) councillor Tahir Hussain. The charge sheet suggests that a month before the riots in northeast Delhi, Hussain met with Umar Khalid and another activist. They were reportedly asked to be “prepared for something big/riots at the time of Trump’s visit”. According to the charge sheet, Khalid was also promised financial help.
Going by the leads that the police seems to have got, the Home Ministry appears to be right in asserting that the anti-CAA protests and the subsequent riots were part of a larger design to instigate riots in other parts of the country as well. A fact-finding team that looked into the violence in Bengaluru’s D.G. Halli area in August claimed it its report that there was a “pattern” to the violence and it was “similar” to the Delhi riots.
The Bengaluru Police too had invoked UAPA against 61 people in the DG Halli riot case. The accused were initially booked under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), but the Karnataka government later decided to invoke the stringent UAPA. Over and above the use of these laws, the state government is also considering slapping charges under the Goonda Act.
The likes of Amnesty International, which are rushing to advise the government and its various agencies to respect the human rights of the riot-accused should also comment on the brutal killing of the IB officer Ankit Sharma, whose badly mutilated body bearing innumerable wounds due to torture of extreme nature was extricated from a drain in East Delhi, the political stronghold of the local AAP MLA.
A herculean task
The general feeling among a section of law enforcement authorities is that many times, riot perpetrators, after causing severe damages to life and property of innocent civilians, manage to go unpunished under political patronage. It is these elements who later form a mafia and a strong politics-underworld nexus. Rarely does a police officer summon enough courage to challenge such sinister nexus and when someone does, s/he is transferred to some “punishment posting”. Ironically the story of some of these rare, unknown, and unsung heroes comes alive on the celluloid and rakes in millions for the actors and their team while the real hero languishes somewhere.
It is unfortunate that a premier educational institution like the JNU should be identified not with excellence in learning and research but with riff-raff elements indulging in nefarious activities. The people at the helm of administration should set right the anomalies, albeit, without curtailing the legitimate democratic rights of the students and faculty.
The Delhi Police appears to be determined to pursue this case earnestly with a view to punish the wrongdoers. Their success in bringing the perpetrators to book will send the right signal across the political and social spectrum. But it will be a herculean task to insulate the case from politics and political pressure, both for and against.
Seshadri Chari is the former editor of ‘Organiser’. Views are personal.