The silence of the Congress on lynchings across Alwar is in stark contrast to the noise it makes on crime, and law and order, in its assembly election campaign in eastern Rajasthan. From its manifesto to public rallies, social media and posters, the Congress underscores public security and the rising crime rate in Alwar, but steers clear of mob violence fearing a Hindu backlash.
Not far from Delhi, where senior party leaders routinely target the BJP state government on mob violence, is Behror — ground zero of cow vigilantism in Rajasthan and where Pehlu Khan was lynched by cow vigilantes in 2017. In the Ramgarh constituency 80 km away, Rakbar Khan was killed by a mob in July and Umar Khan was killed by “gau rakshaks” in November 2017.
With just two days left before campaigning ends, none of the frontrunners brings up the lynching directly. Of the nine candidates in Behror, eight are Yadavs and the community accounts for more than 70 per cent of the 2.2 lakh electorate.
Baljit Singh Yadav, a Congress rebel contesting as an independent, brought up the issue during a campaign rally Friday. Referring to a purported audio clip on social media, Baljit claims a Muslim leader pledged support to the Congress candidate R C Yadav for raising the lynching incident in the campaign. The Congress denies the charge.
A source close to Baljit said: “Innocent Yadav men were arrested after the lynching and the Congress wants to politicise this. One priority for our campaign is that innocent men are not sent to jail in the Pehlu Khan case.”
But, Sudanshu Joshi, the Congress in-charge of the campaign, said: “For us, raising the Pehlu Khan issue is not beneficial. In fact, it will polarise this election, which we cannot afford. The whole incident was portrayed as something else and defamed Behror. In our campaign, we stress on the law and order issue in this constituency.”
Sources in the Congress also said that Muslims account for less than 1,000 votes in Behror. “They have no choice anyway. They will vote for us. We don’t need to anger the Yadav community here,” said a senior party functionary.
Official police records show that violent crime in Behror is climbing rapidly. Between 2015 and 2018, Behror accounted for 21, 19, 23 and 25 murders, respectively, and abductions doubled from 27 in 2016 to 53 in 2018.
The Congress and Baljit are always quick to point to an incident in June, when Behror municipality vice-chairman Rakesh Sharma was shot dead at a wedding.
According to a senior police officer, violent crime has soared in the last few years with a sharp increase in property rates. “The land acquisition process for the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor has begun and this has dramatically increased property prices. Several crimes are now linked to property,” the officer said.
In crime, the Congress has found an issue that resonates across the district. Rajasthan Police records show that Alwar has accounted for the most cases of murder, abduction and rape since 2013. In 2016 alone, Alwar recorded 111 murders, 239 cases of rape and 336 abduction cases, respectively.
In the Ramgarh constituency, a Congress leader recalls a poll speech that went wrong. “Addressing a rally, I referred to lynchings and said that people should not take the law into their own hands. The next day, our workers told us that people have refused to come to rallies. This is the state we are living in. Forget about Muslims, we cannot even talk about violence. We decided then that we will concentrate only on crime and not refer to lynchings at all,” the leader said.
Former Alwar BJP president Dharamveer Sharma says the Congress campaign is baseless. “The BJP government has clamped down on crime across the region and the Congress is only spreading lies. They have no issues to talk about so they bring this up. The people can see through this,” he said.