Many believe that Jayant Sinha, Minister of State for Civil Aviation, who felicitated those convicted by a lower court in Jharkhand for the lynching of Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh last June, was picked on because of his pedigree. They say that many other BJP MPs, ministers and MLAs have said and done more outrageous stuff. Perhaps, there are those who believe that a foreign education and exposure makes people more humane.
I think they are wrong. Politics is not an easy thing to practice. In fact all is fair in love and politics (since wars are no longer fought as they used to be). Sinha therefore normalised a criminal act and also sent out a bugle call that lynching is an innocent prank in the new India crafted by the BJP after 2014. Ansari was lynched on suspicion that he was transporting beef in his vehicle, which was later burnt. The eight people who were part of the mob that lynched him, recently got bail from the High Court but they were not acquitted of their crime. The matter is sub-judice and it’s possible that the verdict could be “guilty” as charged.
Then what face do Sinha and the BJP cohort that organised the public function to garland the accused have? Obviously the lynch mob is a Franke-nstein’s monster of hatred, hubris and narcissism created to keep Sinha’s vote bank intact.
Of late, several provocative statements have wounded the sentiments of minorities in this country. There is a climate of fear and uncertainty about the future. Sinha’s action comes at a time when the Supreme Court tersely observed, on 3 July, that whatever the reason may be, lynching is a crime. The apex court put the onus of checking this form of vigilantism on the respective states.
We are witnessing a situation where law and order is gradually slipping away from the hands of the police mainly because of the politicisation of the force. What happened at Ramgarh could be repeated elsewhere. Recently, in Assam, several people have been arrested for lynching two innocent young men who were alleged to be child lifters. If these people succeed in getting bail, how do we know that they too will not be similarly feted by politicians and those in the community who colluded with them and believe they did the right thing?
Copy-cat actions are common these days. And lynching is happening on a regular basis across the country. Just because lynching is a new method adopted by gau-rakshaks (cow vigilantes), who suddenly came alive after May 2014, does not make it an action to be celebrated by people sharing a similar ethos. Lynching, called by any other name, means one thing — it is cold blooded murder committed by an irrational mob.
The feting of murderers started when the dead body of Ravin Sisodia, one of the 18 accused arrested on charges of killing Akhlaq Khan (suspected of storing and consuming beef in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh), was wrapped in the tricolour. Sisodia died of renal and respiratory failure. Over two years after Akhlaq’s killing, the accused in the case, all of whom are out on bail, may soon secure jobs. Above all, the family of Sisodia is likely to get Rs 8 lakh compensation, courtesy the local BJP MLA Tejpal Singh Nagar.
When the rape case at Kathua happened, people took out a procession in support of the accused and used the tricolour to express their nationalism. The rape of a Muslim girl-child was not even seen as a crime worth condemning. Indeed, today we face an Orwellian dilemma, where speaking up has consequences. The word “troll” gained currency after 2014. Write anything against the BJP government at the Centre or the states and you have to deal with these vicious trolls. The trolls first demonise their targets and then make it easier for that person to be physically attacked. It is a cleverly calibrated sequence of actions.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a voracious social media user, ironically remains silent in the face of such deliberate actions by fellow MPs, ministers and BJP-RSS members. This confluence of crisis marked by the inability of the Modi Government to create jobs and therefore deflecting the attention of the people to other issues has produced a surge in vehement behaviour and use of vile language by those who are mistakenly called “leaders”. Politicians defy the norms of leadership for they will cut all corners to secure their vote banks.
Among the BJP MPs, many of whom lack intellectual depth and finesse, people like Sinha stand out. An alumnus of IIT-Delhi with a string of degrees from international universities of repute including the Harvard Business School, Sinha is seen as a rare exception. He is the last person you expect to throw caution to the winds only to fulfil a craving for populism that other BJP MLAs and MPs thrive on. Sinha is obviously pandering to vote bank politics but at what cost? The Twitter world is ablaze with condemnations of Sinha’s actions. But his response is that he is acting within the law. But what is the law here? Is a person out on bail necessarily acquitted of his crime? Is that explanation meant to cover up his misdemeanour?
The fact of the matter is that pluralism, which is the cornerstone of Indian political practice allowing compromises essential for keeping hundreds of jostling identities afloat, is now receding. A new kind of assertion is gaining ground, which wants to reduce this country to a mono-cultural living space dictated by a single religious faith and ruled by one radical political group. To keep this group in power it is necessary to project the last 70-odd years as years of compromises and appeasement of minorities.
The ruling dispensation today is expected by supporters and followers to flex its muscles and prove that it will not acquiesce to minority assertions for a liberal space. Nor will it allow the free flow of intellectual interface for fear that reason will defeat irrational passions injected in lynch mobs across the country. They believe they are doing the population a favour by getting rid of anti-nationals who don’t conform to the new norms of political behaviour. This is a dangerously flawed premise.
The RSS, on the other hand, is partly ossified and does not believe in soul searching. They believe they know much more about India than anyone else. Their proclivity to link all modern technological and medical advances to a hoary past is deeply problematic. Yet their members, especially those elected to rule different states, make disparaging comments about modern science and inventions. While the cadre-based model of the RSS and its booth level politics are vote winners, the same can often degenerate into a sort of exclusive sect with a closed mindset.
At the moment the BJP is on an appeasement spree of those that carry out its mandate such as the gau-rakshaks. One can understand the underpinnings of electoral politics but by publicly condoning lynching, Sinha and others in the BJP have made compromises they will find difficult to contain. Frankenstein’s monsters are known to hit back at their masters and creators after all. Ironically the lynchings are rampant in the BJP-ruled states of Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Assam. This certainly does not bode well for India.
The writer is Editor of the Shillong Times and can be contacted at [email protected]