Politics, lies, and violence over India’s citizenship law

Small groups of left-wing politicians and Islamists held ‘funeral’ prayers in the southern Indian state of Kerala on Sunday night for students ‘killed’ in police ‘firing’at a Delhi university campus a few hours earlier.

A message on social media about two students ‘killed’ at Jamia Millia Islamia University brought these groups to the streets to protest against the alleged police action.

The message was fake just like several other messages spread by Islamist groups on social media. It sparked protests across university campuses in India late on Sunday.

On Monday, the Delhi Police dismissed rumours being spread about the way they handled the mob violence near Jamia campus. They warned of tough action against those who spread such misinformation to incite violence.

Later, the home ministry issued an advisory to state governments asking them to monitor fake messages spread on social media.

Briefing media, MS Randhawa, PRO of Delhi Police, said the charges against officers of using excessive force on Jamia students are not true and they did not open fire on any student.

Some officers did enter the campus to arrest suspects who sneaked in after setting central government buses, private cars and motorcycles on fire and throwing rocks at police leaving 30 of them injured, Randhawa said.

Earlier, Jamia Vice-Chancellor said the Delhi Police entered the university campus without permission, fired teargas shells and attacked students in a library.

However, media reports supported by videos claimed that police entered the library only to nab suspects who were trying to use the university campus as a sanctuary.

Locals, vandals and some students of the university armed with Molotov cocktails, sticks and rocks took part in arson and rioting that began around 5pm on a road just 800 yards from the campus.

Students of Jamia denied any role in the violence unleashed and claimed that they had been holding peaceful protests inside their campus against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) since last week.

They accused outsiders of indulging in violence.

Responding to the rioting and arson near Jamia, Delhi Chief Minister and leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Arvind Khejriwal, above, blamed it on the Delhi Police who come under the ministry of home affairs headed by Amit Shah.

Misled by messages posted on social media, Khejriwal’s deputy Manish Sisodia initially alleged that cops set fire to the buses.

Videos tell a different story. Youth are seen hurling bricks on the windscreen of government buses and hitting the glass windows with long sticks amid off-screen voices saying “Aag lagao, Aag lagao (‘Set on fire’).

 With Delhi assembly elections just months away, AAP wants to corner Shah’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by showing how CAA is posing a threat to Muslims, a major vote bank, and the Union government is using police to smother dissent and attack students.

Minutes before the riots broke out near the Jamia campus, AAP’s legislator, Amanatullah Khan, was seen addressing a protest rally a few kilometres away, saying Muslims are finding it difficult to “ensure safety of places of worship, walking with beard and skull cap and wearing burqas.”

The audience is heard chanting that those who follow Hitler’s path will die like him.

Khan denied any role in the violence at Jamia Millia and said the protest at Shaheen Bagh where he spoke was peaceful.

However a day later, a sting operation by Republic TV recorded Khan’s aide Mintullah Khan as saying that people cannot accept everything that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah say.

Asked if action was taken on the words of Khan, Mintullah said violence had to be done in Delhi.

Like AAP, Congress and left-leaning parties keep blaming Modi and Shah for the violence spreading over CAA. None of them have spoken much on violence, lies being spread on social media or the need for restoration of peace.

While questioning CAA, the Opposition’s only aim seems to be to win over more Muslim voters to stage a comeback in assembly and national elections.

Both Modi and Shah have reminded Muslims that CAA has nothing to do with them and it is concerned only about minorities in Muslim-majority Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India fleeing religious persecution. The law has a limited objective.