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How Delhi mayhem in 2020 is scarier than 1984 | Opinion

With no elections round the corner, and with a Donald Trump and international press around, the Delhi mayhem shatters the narrative that India's communal unrest is motivated solely by electoral politics

How Delhi mayhem in 2020 is scarier than 1984 | Opinion

Thirty four people have died and over 200 wounded in the riots that broke out in North East Delhi on Monday. (Photo: PTI)

It's not about the scale of the casualty or the modus. Just look at the timing, the climate, and the mentality that could induce such maddening mass violence in the Indian capital in 2020.

Comparisons have been drawn with 1984. But what unfolded on the streets of North-East Delhi is a test report of a much deeper malignancy.

Let me explain.


I begin by asking whether a 1984 could have taken place if Ronald Reagan, the then US President, was in India? The answer is "unlikely".

But the Delhi mayhem of February 2020 happened in the middle of a Donald Trump visit to India.


Was 1984 a riot, with two sides fighting? No. It was a massacre. Police largely looked the other way as mobs set Sikhs and their properties on fire in Delhi and several other cities.

No Sajjan Kumar appeared before the Sikhs with a forewarning to leave the capital in 1984. Truckloads of men carrying kerosene, petrol, rods and sticks were unleashed across the city overnight back then.

In 2020, a Kapil Mishra descends on the ground under a police escort with a brazen threat before the violence erupts.


When 1984 happened, there was only one TV station - the state-run Doordarshan. Barring a couple of publications, no other newspaper reported the massacre for three days.

This week's Delhi anarchy happened under the full glare of zillions of TV stations, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp feeds and international media covering the Donald Trump visit.

Videos circulating on social media in 2020 show police giving cover and leading the mobs instead. Police in the Indian national capital would very well know they'd be filmed. That they still did what they did makes it much more alarming. And to expect the Delhi Police to authenticate those videos would be naive.


The brutal events of 1984 happened before Lok Sabha elections. What broke out in the North-East Delhi this week has no link to electoral politics. No elections are due anytime soon.

So, the motive is not immediate power. This nihilism has shattered the narrative that communal mass violence in India is usually inspired by vote politics.

This week's atrocities have raised the bar to another level. Elections or no elections. Popular support or no popular support. The barbarity can be perpetrated at will anywhere, the popular elected heads of the stricken regions reduced to pathetic spectators preaching Gandhigiri.


"Police zindabad" slogans were never heard in 1984. It's a new phenomenon that accompanies every rioting in Delhi now, small or big.


This week's bloodshed delivers a scarier message -- there are no full stops in India's evolving civilian crisis as of now, not by international pressure, world powers, institutions of democracy or constraints of electoral politics.

(This article is from our'News Analysis' section. A news analysis piece advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author's interpretation of the facts and data. News analysis pieces may include reported facts or quotes, but emphasizes the author's own thoughts, interpretations and conclusions.)

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