Dozens have been killed during riots in New Delhi.

Tensions had been building over a new citizenship law that critics see as a threat to India’s secular society and a way to further marginalise the country’s 200 million Muslims.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi feted US President Donald Trump on his first state visit to India, a moment that was supposed to help cement the country’s place on the world stage instead became an embarrassment.

On Sunday, as Mr Modi prepared for Mr Trump’s arrival, a group of predominantly Muslim protesters demonstrated in a north-eastern corner of the capital against the citizenship law, which fast-tracks naturalisation for some religious minorities from neighbouring countries but not Muslims.

A Delhi street vandalised during clashes
A Delhi street vandalised during clashes (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Kapil Mishra, a local leader of Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party who lost his Delhi state assembly seat in recent elections, held his own rally, urging police to clear out the protesters.

By Thursday, the death toll from the violence that followed, between Hindus and Muslims who had lived side by side for centuries, had risen to 32.

The streets where the rioting occurred, in Muslim and Hindu areas alike, resembled a war zone. Helmeted, camouflaged and baton-wielding police marched down pavements littered with broken glass and charred vehicles as residents peered from behind neighbourhood gates they had locked from inside.

OP Mishra, joint commissioner of police, leading the march, said he was responsible for instilling in the residents “a sense of confidence that peace has returned”.

But a ban on groups of five or more people remained in place, and schools were closed.

He urged people to go about their regular business, but acknowledged they were “apprehensive” to do so.

On one corner, Muslims accused police of aiding Hindu mobs in the clashes, including setting fire to mosques and a shrine.

Indian paramilitary soldiers ask residents to stay indoors
Indian paramilitary soldiers ask residents to stay indoors (AP/Altaf Qadri)

Because New Delhi is a federal territory, Mr Modi’s government controls the city’s police force, which reports to Home Minister Amit Shah – the prime minister’s trusted confidante.

Down the street, police showed crude catapults on a burned and ransacked school building and behind a makeshift barrier that they accused Muslim rioters of using to attack Hindus living on the other side near an undamaged Hindu temple.

Police denied allegations that they aided the Hindu mobs or failed to stop violence against Muslims. But bystander videos appeared to show police standing by as Hindu men attacked Muslims. Other videos showed police commanding Muslims to sing India’s national anthem. The Delhi High Court condemned police for not stopping the mobs.

Since cruising back to power in a general election last May, Mr Modi has aggressively carried out his party’s Hindu nationalist agenda, from stripping restive Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority region, of its statehood, to supporting a Supreme Court ruling allowing a Hindu temple to be built on the site of a Mughal-era mosque torn down by Hindu mobs in 1992.