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At home with towering temple

Shah’s silence on the Jamia crackdown was the elephant in the room in the home ministry on Monday
Ministry sources confirmed that Amit Shah, to whom the Delhi police report, was keeping constant tabs on the situation in Jamia from Jharkhand. Asked why he was then silent on Sunday’s raid, a bureaucrat sidestepped the question.

Imran Ahmed Siddiqui   |   New Delhi   |   Published 16.12.19, 09:10 PM

Union home minister Amit Shah on Monday promised a “sky-scraping” Ram temple in Ayodhya while campaigning in Jharkhand, but he spoke not a word on his police force’s forced entry and rampage on the Jamia Millia Islamia campus in Delhi on Sunday.

Ministry sources confirmed that Shah, to whom the Delhi police report, was keeping constant tabs on the situation in Jamia from Jharkhand. Asked why he was then silent on Sunday’s raid, a bureaucrat sidestepped the question.

“The home minister is now seen as the new ‘Iron Man’, capable of blunt talk and bold decisions. Do you believe the police could have barged into the university without a green light from the top?” he told The Telegraph in his North Block office in the afternoon.

But he nodded meaningfully as soon as he saw the television channels flashing Shah’s statement in Jharkhand about a Ram temple coming up in four months.

“It’s all about priorities. You must have got your answer now,” the bureaucrat told this correspondent.

Shah’s silence on the Jamia crackdown, however, was the elephant in the room in the home ministry on Monday. In private, senior bureaucrats expressed dismay.

“It’s unfortunate that the home minister has not spoken a single word on the alleged police brutality. A comforting statement from him could have assuaged the anger and anxiety among the students,” an IPS officer attached to the ministry told this newspaper.

He referred to the videos showing the police running wild inside the university, even using tear smoke to flush students out of the library.

“How can the police enter the campus without permission from the university administration?” he said. “Educational institutions cannot be turned into military occupied zones.”

Ministry sources said home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla was keeping Shah posted about the situation in Jamia, which remained tense but non-violent on Monday.

“Although the minister is in Jharkhand, he is being given regular updates on the situation by the home secretary. He (Shah) must be giving instructions to Delhi police through the home secretary on how to handle the protests,” a bureaucrat said.

In public, senior officials and spokespersons refused to comment on Shah’s silence. During Monday’s routine briefing, an official said the Citizenship (Amendment) Act “would not harm any citizens of the country” and read out a three-page statement that Shah had already aired in Parliament last week.

Asked about the alleged police brutalities on students, she was evasive. “I have been directed to say only this pertaining to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. I will ask my higher-ups and tell you our comments on Jamia incident tomorrow.”

Delhi police spokesperson M.S. Randhawa said the crime branch would investigate the Jamia violence and appealed to citizens and students to ignore social media “rumours”. He said the police had used “maximum restraint, minimum force” despite being “provoked” by the student protesters.

“There was no firing and there have been no casualties in the violence,” he said.

Randhawa said that four buses, 100 private vehicles --- mostly two-wheelers --- and 10 police motorbikes had been damaged during the street violence near Jamia. “One policeman is in the ICU,” he said.

Asked how the police could enter the campus without permission, he said: “We are probing this as well.”

Amnesty International India said the allegations that the police had brutally beaten and sexually harassed Jamia students must be investigated and those responsible prosecuted.

Policemen had entered the Jamia campus in Delhi without permission on Sunday evening and gone on the rampage, thrashing students and beating a woman BBC reporter, students and university officials have said.

The raid led to widespread protests on Monday by students in Delhi and across the country. There were no fresh clashes but the situation remained tense on the Jamia and Delhi University campuses.

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