The spectacle of Union Minister Jayant Sinha garlanding the convicts, out on bail in the gruesome lynching of a meat trader in Jharkhand, is deeply disturbing. It is unfortunate that a person holding high public office identifies himself with the convicts in a horrible crime that has become an increasing trend across India. Sinha’s convoluted justification of his gesture makes the issue much more complicated. While he is entitled to a view that it was a case of miscarriage of justice, his action of publicly giving convicts of mob violence a hero’s welcome is highly improper. The BJP is already facing the flak, and justifiably so, for creating a divisive atmosphere that seeks to legitimise mob lynching. Though the Minister later tweeted that he was against all forms of vigilantism, the onus is still on him to ensure that his public actions conform to his words. Even if the eight persons, convicted earlier by a fast-track court and released on bail by the Jharkhand High Court, are later found to have been just onlookers and not participants in the mob violence, it will not lessen the cynical nature of Sinha’s move that virtually lionises the lynching mob. Such gross misjudgment on the part of the Minister sends a wrong message and emboldens the merchants of hatred to carry out their criminal agenda. The BJP leadership owes an explanation as to why its local strongman Nityanand Mahto was at the scene of crime when a meat trader, Alimuddin Ansari, was beaten to death by a mob at the Bazaar Tand area in Ramgarh on the suspicion that he was carrying beef in his car.
One of the key reasons for frequent flare up of communal violence in the country is that the guilty are rarely punished because they enjoy political protection. Last week, another Union Minister Giriraj Singh visited a jail in Bihar to meet the activists of Bajrang Dal and VHP arrested on charges of inciting communal tension on Ramnavami in 2017. He even claimed that the accused were implicated in false cases and blamed the Nitish Kumar government for “suppression” of Hindus. Vigilantism in any form is anathema to democracy and political patronage to it is fraught with far greater threat to the social fabric. Such murderous attacks undermine the core values of tolerance, diversity and peaceful co-existence for which Indian society is respected the world over. There is a need for firm policy that cracks down on vigilante groups and doesn’t distinguish between good and bad vigilantes. The perpetrators of mob violence must be brought to book and given exemplary punishment. There is a growing perception that cow vigilantism has been receiving velvet-glove treatment despite murderous attacks.