Thousands of people and police personnel faced off against each other near the Jamia Millia Islamia University on Thursday after a man fired a pistol at a group of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protesters, injuring a student before walking away while waving the firearm over his head shouting 'Yeh lo Aazadi’.
As night fell, massive protests broke out with agitated students and others gathering near the university, breaking barricades and clashing with police personnel. Some demonstrators, including a woman, could be seen being forcibly taken away. Many sang the national anthem.
While the man was overpowered by police and arrested, the injured student Shahdab Farooq, who was seen bleeding from his left hand, was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences Trauma Centre.
Farooq, a mass communications student, belongs to Kashmir.
The entire drama, which triggered panic in the area, was captured by television cameras that showed the man in light coloured pants and a dark jacket, walking away on an empty road barricaded by police, turning around and shouting at the protesters in Hindi, 'Here, take this freedom'.
Behind him, a group of policemen could be seen in the frame.
"By the time police could react, the person had already fired. Everything happened in seconds. The investigation is on and the case has been transferred to the Crime Branch," said Special CP Intelligence Praveer Ranjan.
"We have apprehended the person. We are investigating whether he is a juvenile or not," he told reporters.
As tension spiralled in the area, Home Minister Amit Shah said on Twitter that he had spoken to the Delhi police commissioner to take strictest possible action.
The home minister also said the Central government will not tolerate such incidents and the guilty will not be spared.
The gunman went live on Facebook, where he identifies himself as Rambhakt Gopal, before the brandishing the gun. Police said they were verifying whether it is his real name.
Before the attack, the man put out messages on Facebook, referencing the Shaheen Bagh protests nearby.
'Shaheen bhag khel khatam (Run Shaheen, the game is over)', said one post. Another message stated, 'Please wrap me in saffron in my last journey with slogans of Jai Shri Ram'.
His Facebook profile was deleted after screenshots of his posts were circulated widely on social media platforms.
Elsewhere in New Delhi, Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav, activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan, Communist Party of India leaders D Raja and Kumar Anjaan were among those who said they were detained in separate demonstrations to show solidarity with the national flag and the Constitution on Mahatma Gandhi's death anniversary on Thursday.
Several students recapped how their peaceful march, intended to reach Rajghat, Gandhi's samadhi, slipped into violence.
"We were moving towards the Holy Family Hospital where the police had raised barricades. Suddenly, a gun-wielding man came out and opened fire. One bullet hit my friend's hand," Aamna Asif, a student of economics at the university, told PTI.
She said Farooq was trying to calm the attacker but he shot at him.
Ragibh Naushad, an LLB student at the university, said, "The Jamia Coordination Committee organised a march to pay homage to Gandhi ji on his death anniversary. It started at 12 noon from Gate number 7, but police denied the permission and stopped the march near the Holy Family hospital.
"A man came there and started brandishing a weapon and later shot a round. He was also chanting pro-CAA slogans."
The situation got progressively more volatile as the day progressed.
Asif Ahmad, a Jamia student, said the protesters are not ready to leave the area where the firing incident took place in the afternoon.
"Police have time and again failed us. They kept looking at the attacker as if they were watching a circus," Ahmad said.
With the standoff showed no signs of ending, police officials announced from across the barricades, "Today is Gandhi ji's day. Please do not resort to any violent activity."
A police official said they had been requesting the protestors to disperse since 4 pm.
The university's proctor and professors had also tried to persuade them to disperse but to no avail. Residents of the area formed a human chain, trying to push the protesters back.
"We have been requesting students to go back to their home and hostels. We are urging them not to engage with police," said Jamia Teachers Association secretary Majid Jamil.
Thursday's incident echoed the tensions of December 15 when the university virtually turned into a battlefield as police entered the campus and also used force, following protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Several students and others were injured. Besides, four DTC buses, 100 private vehicles and 10 police bikes were damaged.
On Tuesday, in Shaheen Bagh, a man armed with a gun entered the protest area but was overpowered.
The incident, ahead of the February 8 Delhi elections, led to several political leaders, including from the Congress and the Left, speaking out.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist on Thursday said the firing was a fallout of the 'hate speech' by Union Ministers and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders during the campaign.
On Thursday, the Election Commission barred Union minister Anurag Thakur from campaigning for three days and BJP MP Parvesh Verma for four for their controversial remarks.