Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Delhi’s backyard in Dadri, on suspicion of storing beef in September 2015. Zahid Rasool Bhat, 16 years old, a student of Class 10, the first member of his family to go to high school, succumbed to injuries sustained during a petrol bomb attack on the truck he was riding in Udhampur, by a mob that suspected him of transporting cattle/beef in October the same year.
In the latest instance, 15-year-old Junaid Khan was stabbed to death on board a Delhi-Mathura train last week as he headed home to Ballabhgarh after Eid shopping, by a group of men who hurled religious slurs at him. In all these incidents, was the state, the government, to blame? Of course not, it is possible to say.
In these, as in the lynchings that happened in between, it was the anonymous mob that, almost suddenly, set upon the vulnerable aam Muslim and killed him, on the pretext of cow protection, as punishment for presumed eating habits, or for wearing the symbols of a different religious identity. These bloodthirsty mobs have formed at different times, in different states — in Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Haryana, UP, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, J&K. But equally, it must be said: The quietude of the BJP-ruled governments in the states and of the Narendra Modi-led Centre — in stark contrast to their regular drum-beating on definitions and tests of nationalism/Indian-ness — and the heavy-footedness of the law enforcement machinery in the aftermath, implicates them in every such attack. It makes the next one possible. The randomness of the violence, its apparent banality, makes it more difficult to prevent and to address. But the state has no option not to do so. Else, the conclusion is inescapable: The lynching is carried out by the mob, but the mob is emboldened by the state.
Yet there is a question: Why must the ruling party take on the grim responsibility, when there is no evidence of it paying any electoral penalties for the lynchings? After all, over the last three years, even as the lynchings continue, the BJP has been on a winning spree. It posted a famous victory in Mohammad Akhlaq’s UP earlier this year. It may even be that Junaid’s killing on the train to Ballabhgarh last week will account for little or no dent in the Khattar government’s prospects in the next election.
But there is another question here that the BJP must ask itself, about the nature of its constitutional pact with the people, including and especially the minority community: Does the fact that it does not need Muslim votes to win mean that it can abandon the community to the crazed mobs? Can its allegiance and commitment to democracy be so impoverished, as brutish a notion as that? The party that dominates the Centre and rules a growing number of states in India must ask itself if, despite its several electoral successes, it can call itself a victor if the very polity it presides over is hollowed of its richness, if it can no longer boast of being a safe house for minorities.