Peaceful protest against government policies is part of the dynamics of democracy, but pitched battles between two sides on the streets, the burning of vehicles and attacks on houses and shops have nothing to do with democratic principles. It is tragic that the violence in northeastern Delhi has resulted in destruction and even death, with a policeman killed alongside civilians. Disagreement, in this case over the new citizenship laws and specifically the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, should not result in such a total breakdown of law and order as is being witnessed since Monday, especially in the areas of Maujpur, Kardampuri, Chand Bagh and Dayalpur. That the administration has no control over the events there has been made clear by the fact that the violence coincided with the visit of the president of the United States of America, an occasion of great pride for the Indian prime minister. Reportedly, the confrontation that has led to arson and murder is between supporters of the CAA and protesters against it. It is a great pity that neither side has felt the need to support, by holding back on the violence, the prime minister’s initiative to welcome the US president.
Did the arrangements for the welcome so engage the Centre that law and order was allowed to slip? It is puzzling that such disorder should occur under the Union home ministry, which is in charge of law and order in Delhi. Although the government of Delhi cannot be held responsible for the breakdown, a stronger voice from the chief minister asking for peace earlier could have been expected. The chief minister has met the Union home minister; it is unlikely he asked what the home ministry was doing. Tensions were building up from Sunday night; why was there no effort to defuse them immediately? It does not help matters that in some video clips, police personnel are heard asking some people to throw stones and, reportedly, throwing stones themselves. In the context of countrywide protests against the CAA, the police have shown themselves in a poor light: aggressive and partisan or inert and ineffective. Their image is unlikely to gain a sheen from their conduct in northeastern Delhi. The real sufferers, as usual, are the ordinary people, whether they support the CAA or not.