Akash Vijayvargiya, the 34-year-old MLA from Indore, and BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya’s son, says he does not feel either guilty or embarrassed for assaulting, in public view, Indore Municipal Corporation officer, Dhirendra Bayas, with a cricket bat. For Akash, the attack was “in the public interest”. There is more than one reason why this incident and its aftermath is scandalous and should be seen to be so. First, an elected official assaulting a municipal officer shows, at its core, a disrespect for the administration, the front-line officials who form the backbone of governance. Second, that the local BJP unit has chosen to brazen out the assault, even celebrate it, indicates a disturbing mindset in a constitutional democracy: An elected legislator can flaunt the people’s mandate to take on the rule of law, hit it out of the park with a cricket bat.
Out on bail, the MLA’s justification has been that municipal officials “dragged women by their feet” from a building that was set to be demolished. While the attack has been caught on camera, Akash’s allegations have not been proved. And even if they were true, a person holding constitutional office must know that it is for the police and the judiciary to investigate and pass judgment on criminal matters. His actions also betray a lack of confidence in his own party — the Indore Municipal Corporation is controlled by the BJP and the matter could surely have been looked into without resorting to violence. The building in question had been marked for demolition more than a year ago, as the dilapidated structure has been assessed as too fragile and dangerous for human habitation. By attacking an official for doing his job, the BJP MLA has further derailed the already fraught exercise of urban governance. In May 2018, for instance, an assistant town planner in Himachal Pradesh was shot dead for enforcing the demolition of buildings flouting construction laws. Now, after the assault, Bayas has received threats and asked for police protection.
The local BJP’s celebration of the lumpenism on display in Indore is at odds with its outrage at political violence in West Bengal, where it made remarkable gains in the Lok Sabha elections. There, Kailash Vijayvargiya, as the party official in charge of the state, has led the charge against the Trinamool Congress for allegedly subverting the rule of law. The first principles behind that argument also apply to Madhya Pradesh and Indore. When elected representatives, leaders of their party, place themselves at odds with the administration in a violent manner, they send a message that trickles down to the grassroots political worker — that the instruments of the state can be subverted for political mileage. And that civil behaviour and basic public morality can be discarded with impunity.