Whatever the lab reports say on the meat recovered from Mohammad Akhlaq’s home or near it, whether or not it was beef, his lynching by a mob eight months ago in Bisada village of Dadri was a savage crime that calls for swift and sure punishment of the perpetrators. This much should be obvious in a society governed by the rule of law, not the frenzy of the mob. Yet, tragically, it needs to be said again: regardless of whether the recovered meat belonged to the “cow or its progeny”, as the Mathura forensic lab report says, or was of the “goat progeny” as the preliminary report from the doctor at Dadri’s Government Veterinary Hospital found it to be, the killing of a man on account of rumours of the possession or consumption of beef is one of the most shameful moments in the life of this nation — and a criminal case that needs to be taken to its just conclusion.
Yet again, on Dadri, important voices from the BJP and the government it leads at the Centre have begun to speak up in prejudiced and primitive ways. Yogi Adityanath, BJP MP, has demanded the immediate release of the “innocent Hindus arrested in the matter” and registration of a case of cow slaughter against Akhlaq’s family. President of the UP BJP Keshav Prasad Maurya has claimed the “propaganda” of the SP-Congress has been exposed. For Union minister Sanjeev Baliyan, what is “really unfortunate” is that UP CM Akhilesh Yadav has questioned the Mathura lab report. Baliyan has accused Yadav of attempts to “politically satisfy” a particular constituency, and BJP MLA Sangeet Som has also targeted the UP CM over the report. It may well be that the BJP figures that a renewed Hindu-Muslim polarisation worked up around the Dadri matter can benefit the party electorally in the UP assembly polls scheduled for 2017 — a day before voting in the final phase of last year’s Bihar assembly polls, remember, prominent BJP ads had appeared in newspapers featuring a woman hugging a cow and accusing Nitish Kumar of silence on statements made by his allies on beef. Whatever its calculus, the BJP’s rabid voices on Dadri and beef need to be challenged by all those who have stakes in India remaining a constitutional democracy that is a safe house for its minorities.
The intolerance debate that billowed last year around episodes like the Dadri lynching, or the murder of rationalists in other parts of the country, has ebbed. But it will keep returning to haunt the party. The BJP must remember that even electorally its strategy to work up communal polarisation did not deliver in Bihar and was followed by a debacle it is still to fully come to terms with. Away from the electoral calculus, is the question of the credibility of the BJP’s claim, despite its electoral successes, to be a party of governance in a diverse democracy.