The situation got out of hand

Friday, March 6, 2020

G. KISHAN REDDY handles crucial arms of the Union home ministry, such as the departments of internal security and of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh affairs. The day after US President Donald Trump ended his India visit, the minister of state for home affairs spoke to THE WEEK on a host of issues, ranging from the riots in Delhi to the implications of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
The protests against the CAA have sparked off riots. What went wrong?

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi formed government in 2014, there has been a campaign saying it is intolerant. So much so that even High Courts and the Supreme Court, at various points, have said that people have the right to protest and the right to freedom of speech. We have seen this in the Shaheen Bagh case recently, and in the protests in Jawaharlal Nehru University. The courts, especially the apex court, said the government should allow these protests.

The Delhi Police should have decided whether the protests can happen there [at Shaheen Bagh]. But the court had appointed its interlocutors, and they were going and talking [to protesters]. The Supreme Court’s involvement was already there.

So, we thought that, if people are protesting peacefully, then we should not object to it. That today or tomorrow, they will understand the truth. This is the reason why we never attempted to stop the Shaheen Bagh protests. There were anti-CAA protests across the country and the government did not try to stop them. Still, they have been calling us an intolerant government!

Who are calling the government intolerant?

Some intellectuals who did award wapsi and sat on dharnas; artists and actors gave statements. Some like Deepika Padukone went to [JNU] and met the students. If we are actually intolerant, why would we have allowed protests at Shaheen Bagh for two months? The public was inconvenienced—there were road closures—but still we did not try to stop the protests. It is a person’s right to protest, and tell the government what he thinks. In turn, it is our duty to explain our stand. But to throw stones at policemen, indulge in violence and open fire at the police are wrong.

Was the violence orchestrated?

It appears to be a deliberate attempt to create communal unrest by some organisations. The truth will come out in the investigations. The home ministry cannot conclusively say right now who was behind it. But why did the violence happen during US president’s visit?

When an international figure of Trump’s repute is visiting India, to sit on dharnas in front of him and indulge in violence is shameful. On the one hand, the prime minister was giving a great reception, working so hard to boost the image of the country and its economy. The people of Gujarat, the state government and Modi himself were working so hard to build the image of the country. And here, on the other hand, efforts were being made to damage the country’s reputation.

But why could you not foresee the situation going out of control?

When Article 370 was abrogated, the government did everything to maintain peace in Jammu and Kashmir. When we did that, we were criticised for arresting people, imposing Section 144 [of the Code of Criminal Procedure], shutting down the internet, and so on.

It is the responsibility of the government to maintain law and order. We do not like to detain political leaders. But it is done to ensure peace and harmony. If there were dharnas against abrogation of Article 370, I can understand because people have been fed a different narrative for the past 70 years. They have been told that, if the special status to the state goes away, their special rights will be affected. So we focused on Kashmir and ensured that no law and order situation occurred. But, during anti-CAA protests, we did not expect this kind of protest…. You cannot carry the national flag in one hand and a stone in the other. That is not the way.

Many BJP leaders gave hate speeches.