CPM leader Brinda Karat was seen blocking a bulldozer at Delhi's Jahangirpuri and waving the copy of a Supreme Court order this afternoon, in dramatic visuals from a tense two-hour standoff during which the civic body refused to stop its "anti-encroachment drive" despite the court's order.
At 9.30 am this morning, bulldozers rolled into Delhi's Jahangirpuri along with 14 civic teams, in the area where communal clashes broke out on Saturday during a Hanuman Jayanti procession.
The North Delhi Municipal Corporation sent nine bulldozers to remove what it called illegal encroachments in Jahangirpuri. In a letter to the Delhi Police, North Delhi Municipal Mayor Raja Iqbal Singh asked for 400 policemen to maintain order in the area, which has been tense since the violence. Today, more than 1,500 cops and security personnel were at the site.
Along with bulldozers, hundreds of officers in riot gear surrounded some shops and a mosque where the clashes broke out on Saturday. "We are here to provide protection, and to maintain law and order," said senior police officer Dependra Pathak.
A petitioner who rushed to the Supreme Court to stop the demolition flagged what they called a disturbing pattern seen in states like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh - communal clashes followed by demolition drives targeting one community. The petitioner also said the Municipal Corporation of Delhi had not alerted anyone before the razing operation.
As the BJP-headed civic body started tearing down structures, a three-judge bench led by the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana ordered status quo until the next hearing - tomorrow - pausing the demolition.
But the demolition did not stop and the excavators proceeded to pull down shops before heading to the mosque. Officials said they did not have the court order in hand yet and would continue "removing illegal structures" until they did.
A wall and a gate of the mosque was razed and some shops nearby were pulled down amid rising tension.
Around 12 noon, CPM leader Brinda Karat arrived at the spot with a physical copy of the order and urged the police and civic staff to stop the demolition instantly. In a video, she was seen in front of a bulldozer, apparently blocking its way.
"We saw the bulldozers just smashing structures. They just bulldozed everything selectively. We had to stop it. After we stopped it, a senior police official came. I spoke to him and showed him the court order. Then he said yes, yes, we will stop it now," Ms Karat told NDTV.
The demolitions, she said, were totally illegal. "They were motivated not to uphold the law but to uphold a very sectarian, communal agenda of the party in power, that is the BJP," said the CPM leader.
"You are bulldozing and bullying not just a community. You are bulldozing the law. You are bulldozing the Supreme Court order."
The Supreme Court was asked to urgently step in as the demolition had not stopped despite the order.
"They say the order is not communicated. Please communicate, ask the secretary General," senior lawyer Dushyant Dave told Chief Justice Ramana. "It was widely reported in media immediately. This is not right! We are in rule of law society," he said.
"It will be too late otherwise," Mr Dave said, requesting urgent remedial action. "Ok. Communicate it through Secretary-General or Registrar General (of the apex court) immediately," said the Chief Justice.
The Chief Justice directed the court staff to take down the contact numbers of the NDMC Mayor, Commissioner and Delhi Police Commissioner from Mr Dave.
The demolitions finally stopped two hours after the Supreme Court order.