New Delhi Streets Turn Into Battleground for Hindus and Muslims

New Delhi Streets Turn Into Battleground for Hindus and Muslims

NEW DELHI — Black smoke coiled up to the sky on Tuesday as Hindus and Muslims battled in a poor neighborhood of India’s capital, leaving seven people dead so far as communal violence unfolded as President Trump was visiting the city.

In other parts of New Delhi, Mr. Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi carried on with sightseeing and meetings, seemingly unaffected as the tension and protests that have roiled the capital over Mr. Modi’s Hindu-first policies exploded into rioting and gang fighting.

Mobs of Hindu men, many of their foreheads marked by a saffron stripe, angrily patrolled the streets carrying sticks, iron bars and baseball bats, threatening to beat up journalists or any outsiders.

At least seven people were killed in the Maujpur area of northern Delhi on Monday, including a police officer bashed in the head with a rock. And on Tuesday, the whole area felt like it was about to ignite. Truckloads of police officers wearing helmets and masks rumbled through the crowds. The streets were littered with scraps of brick.

“The situation is volatile and tense,” said Alok Kumar, a senior police officer. “It’s a mixed neighborhood, and in seconds you can have crowds of tens of thousands. Even a small thing can lead to violence.”

Mr. Modi’s government had choreographed Mr. Trump’s visit as a demonstration of India’s rising stature on the world stage, seeking to turn the page on months of street protests against Mr. Modi that organizers said were aimed at preserving India’s foundation as a secular democracy in the face of what they see as an attempt by Mr. Modi and his allies to turn India into a Hindu state.

The main spark for the protests was the enshrining of a citizenship law that granted expedited naturalization to India for migrants of every significant South Asian religion except Islam. Indian Muslims who had looked on in despair at win after win for Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist base were galvanized to demonstrate, joined by human rights activists, academics and those worried about the country’s direction.

Since last year’s election handed Mr. Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party another term in power, many Indians feared a resurgence of communal violence across the country, sparked by Hindu triumphalism and Muslim desperation. Until now, however, most of the demonstrations remained peaceful.

The fighting in Delhi signaled a dire new phase in the country’s internal divisions under Mr. Modi.

This kind of communal violence has left a lasting mark on Mr. Modi’s legacy. In 2002, when he was the chief minister of Gujarat State, sectarian riots left more than 1,000 people dead — almost 800 of them Muslims who were killed by Hindu mobs.

He and his state government were accused of quietly ordering the police to stand by as the violence raged. He has denied those accusations, and in 2012, an investigative panel for the Supreme Court found no evidence to charge him. But until he won the post of prime minister in 2014, he was banned from entering the United States because of the suspicion hanging over him.

On Sunday, the trouble started in Maujpur when Hindu residents began demonstrating in favor of the citizenship law, and then tried to forcibly remove Muslim protesters demonstrating against the law. The dueling protests quickly degenerated into confrontations between young men from both sides who pelted each other with rocks.

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