After five days of rioting in India’s capital New Delhi some 42 people are dead and more than 200 are badly injured.
By Wednesday the violence had escalated with many of those killed or injured having been shot.
The unrest began when hundreds of Hindu chauvinist thugs went on the rampage in the north east of the city on Sunday. Chanting slogans of the far right, they surrounded the Jama Mosque and used firebombs in an attempt to burn it down.
When this failed they moved to easier targets – Muslim-owned houses and small businesses.
During the initial rioting eyewitnesses described families forced to flee across roof tops while below mobs pelted them with stones and threatened them with beatings.
In the hours that followed gangs of young Muslim men also roamed the streets. Some looked for vengeance and targeted Hindus, others sought only to protect their communities from further attacks.
For days as the flames soared New Delhi’s police were strikingly absent. But later there was fighting as cops moved to clear the streets. Many Muslims report the authorities deliberately targeting their youth rather than the Hindu right’s gangs.
Mohammad Raheemuddin, said, “In India, the police show up even when two brothers have a small scuffle. Here, an entire area was destroyed in the national capital, and there were no police for three days.”
No acts of communal violence on this scale have been seen in the capital for almost 30 years, so what brought on this wave of carnage?
The blame lies squarely with Narendra Modi, India’s hard right BJP party prime minister.
He deliberately stokes communalism by targeting Muslims as an “enemy within”. Modi’s introduction of new laws that specifically discriminate against Muslims and threaten their citizenship rights has led to a wave of protests – and violent reprisals.
Much of the anger is concentrated in India’s north east, where Muslims rightly fear being declared stateless in a country they, and often their parents and grandparents, were born in.
In Delhi, a permanent protest camp has been set up and attracts hundreds of mainly women, both Muslim and Hindu.
This infuriates the Hindu right who fought the city’s recent local election on slogans calling for a violent assault on the protesters. When Delhi’s voters massively rejected the BJP a few weeks ago furious rage swept the party’s gangs.
They declared there would be a reckoning.
And what better week could they chose than the one when the hard right’s supreme leader Donald Trump came to India?
Modi will undoubtedly be furious with his armed supporters. The rioting wrecked the US president’s visit, turning news headlines away from his thousands-strong pro-Trump rally in Gujarat towards streets ablaze in the capital.
The episode highlights a growing contradiction for the Hindu right.
Modi longs to be seen as a global statesman but his past has proved to be a major stumbling block.
In 2002, when governor of Gujarat, anti-Muslim pogroms gripped the city and more than 2,000 people were killed. The BJP and its fascist allies were rightly blamed and Modi became an unwelcome guest abroad.
As prime minster, Modi was initially keen to move away from such street conflict and prove himself as an excellent guardian of Indian capital. He wanted to ensure that big business felt secure with him in charge, aware that communal conflict is a risky strategy.
By moving away from overt thuggery he hoped to win the respect he craves.
But we, both Hindus and Muslims, stood like a wall and didn’t allow them in the area
But as the Indian economy faltered and discontent grew, Modi increasingly turned towards Muslim bating as means of distraction. BJP politicians grew bolder in their rhetoric, and street gangs turned words into action.
The strategy seemed to have paid off when the BJP won last year’s general election with a landslide.
Now, however, Modi’s turn seems to have developed a logic of its own with right wing gangs on the rampage, fully expecting that their leader will back them all the way.
But blood on the streets of Delhi is not a good look for a prime minister eyeing the global stage, and there is pressure from big business to rein in the thugs.
Whichever way Modi jumps there is another force that can determine the outcome.
The biggest obstacle to communal violence in Delhi was not the state but ordinary people who came together to protect each other.
Kalama Ahmed Khan, from a riot-torn area of Delhi, said, “You can see the buildings here have names of Hindus as well as Muslims. By standing united and forming a human chain, we prevented the mob from attacking the religious place.
“The miscreants wanted to damage the temple, fuel distrust among the communities and put the blame on Muslims. But we, both Hindus and Muslims, stood like a wall and didn’t allow them in the area.”
The tradition of working class unity in India runs deeper than either Modi or his baton-wielding friends would like to believe.
A nuclear weapons test
The biggest marches were in Glasgow, Leeds and Bradford
Tories want to clamp down on our marches