Riots are like nucleus events in India’s politics. A lot of it is conducted as if in a lead-up to them, and a lot of it flows from those periodic cataclysms, as a consequence. Politicians are naturally interested in their ebb and flow, like investors tracking stockmarket indices. A curious ambivalence marked that day, February 24, at the grandiose but unusually deserted BJP headquarters in Delhi. The few mid-level leaders present were glued to the television, watching the Modi-Trump bonhomie fill the air at Ahmedabad’s Motera stadium. Then the channel broke for ‘other headlines’. Chiefly, the violence in northeast Delhi. At the centre of all the news then: a small-time Delhi party leader called Kapil Mishra.
Mishra’s antics were eliciting strong disapproval. “Why is he doing this?” asked a leader. “He wants to be the Delhi state president. Manoj Tiwari is under fire and Mishra is trying to endear himself to the top,” replied another. Mishra couldn’t have found a more fertile ground, explains a party leader with roots in the city. “It takes little to trigger passions in northeast Delhi. It has a huge desi migrant population—from Bihar and UP—as also Bangladeshi immigrants. It’s always been a flashpoint, whether in 1984 or 1992. Right now, with Muslims living in fear of CAA-NRC, it’s easy to play on their insecurities,” he adds.