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Shashi Tharoor at the Hay Festival, Abu Dhabi Image Credit:

Abu Dhabi: The violence in Delhi that has killed more than 30 people reminds Indians of their country’s darkest days – the 2002 Gujarat riots, eminent Indian politician and writer Shashi Tharoor has said.

“For many of us, it’s a matter of despair that such a thing should even happen in a country like ours, in the 21st century. We are genuinely very upset about this, and I have already called publicly for decisive action,” Tharoor told Gulf News while on a visit to the capital late Wednesday.

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Shahshi Tharoor is in Abu Dhabi to attend the Hay Festival

“The time to ask for peace, to appeal for calm, that time is over. We are now unfortunately in a situation in which we have to ask for peace to be imposed. If it can’t be done by the police, then the armed forces should step in; [they] really need to do something serious about this,” he urged.

Violence out of control

Tharoor is in Abu Dhabi to attend the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi, which is running until Friday. As he speaks to festival attendees about what he has called the ‘new world disorder’, Tharoor, currently a Member of Parliament in India’s Lok Sabha, has been following the situation in Delhi.

“For many of us, it’s a matter of despair that such a thing should even happen in a country like ours, in the 21st century. We are genuinely very upset about this, and I have already called publicly for decisive action

- Shashi Tharoor, Indian politician and writer

“Over the last couple of days, it’s really spiralled out of control. We believe that irresponsible elements who have been making inflammatory speeches have created an atmosphere in which people have felt they should resort to violence,” Tharoor said.

The unrest first broke out Sunday between people protesting and supporting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which aims to offer citizenship to non-Muslim minorities that have faced persecution. Since the bill was passed in December 2019, there has been widespread fear about discrimination against Muslims, and Wednesday marked the worst sectarian violence in Delhi for decades.

CAA protests ‘peaceful’

Already, more than 34 have been killed in the riots started by a Hindu mob against a group of CAA protesters, and more than 200 have been injured.

“People are in hospital in a bad condition. Even a journalist has been shot. Other journalists have reported being attacked, having their phones and cameras taken. It’s been really, really unpleasant,” Tharoor said.

He however stressed that the protests against the CAA had been peaceful.

“The protests were peaceful. The argument that because the protests were inconveniencing some people that they felt provoked into conducting violence is completely unacceptable. Violence is not an answer to anything, and if you don’t like the protests, there are various processes underway. There was a Supreme Court-mediated intervention that was likely to result in a lifting of the barricades across a couple of the roads. The Government could easily have given a couple of assurances that people were looking for. Formulae were being explored instead of this extraordinarily unpleasant violence which has nothing to do with any democratic process,” he said.

Need for decisive action

“I certainly hope that decisive action will be taken, and that of course those who provoked all this be apprehended and punished,” Tharoor added.

Asked who should be taking this action, the politician pointed to the Central Government of India.

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Shashi Tharoor

“The Central Government, unfortunately, has a particular onus in that many of its supporters are implicated in some of the inflammatory speechmaking and inciting. Of course, it’s very difficult to say how these things will play out but ultimately, it is not in the government’s interest to see the country reduced in this way to a lawless place. It reminds people of the darkest days, for example the riots in Gujarat,” Tharoor added.

Optimism about CAA court review

There is little that people watching the situation can do at this stage, unfortunately, apart from appealing for peace and urging the government to work towards it. There will come a time where people can send relief items to help those affected, Tharoor said.

Tharoor also appeared optimistic that the CAA will eventually be deemed unconstitutional.

“The courts are still hearing the challenges to the constitutionality of the Citizenship Amendment Act, and I am still hopeful, that for the very reasons that many people have protested, that the Court too will find this Act to be unconstitutional,” he said.