A critical reason why a group of persons morphs into a mob acting in concert to inflict violence and even to kill strangers, often on the basis of mere suspicion or rumour, is the larger climate of impunity. A calculation that there will be little or no penalties to pay, little or no consequences for taking the law into their hands is also what emboldens those who seek to stoke enmity and hatred between communities. And this climate of impunity, that calculation of tolerable consequences, is shored up when Jayant Sinha, Union minister of state for civil aviation and BJP MP from Hazaribagh, is photographed garlanding eight men, recently out on bail, convicted by a fast-track court of lynching to death coal trader Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh in a case of cow vigilantism last year in June. And when, a day later, Giriraj Singh, Union minister of state for micro, small and medium enterprises and BJP MP from Nawada, publicly meets and greets VHP and Bajrang Dal activists arrested in connection with communal violence during last year’s Ramnavami.
The message sent out by Ministers Sinha and Singh is that the government they are both part of disrespects the due process of law and is unbashed in being seen to do so too, presumably for political/electoral gain. That message must strike fear and sharpen insecurities among the weak and marginalised, and in the minorities, who are most often the targets and victims of the rampaging mob and bigot. It must also trouble all those who have stakes in the health of India’s constitutional democracy. For, while it is true that acts of lynching and episodes of communal polarisation are not new in India, the flagrance with which they have been taking place in recent years has much to do with the perception gaining ground that the ruling political regime will turn a blind eye to, if not actively encourage the perpetrators.
Not too long ago, it also happened in Kathua. Here, after the abduction, rape and murder of an eight-year-old nomad girl from the Bakherwal community, the arrests of the accused had led to protests staged by lawyers and political outfits — most reprehensibly, two BJP ministers in the then Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government in J&K attended the protests. The two ministers were subsequently forced to resign and the Supreme Court has shifted the case from J&K to Pathankot, and instructed that the trial be fast tracked. But the message that lingers from the shameful aftermath in which a heinous crime was sought to be communalised and politicised, is of those in power standing by those accused of rape and murder — and against the law. The BJP-led NDA government must ask itself if this is an impression it can afford to leave unaddressed and unchallenged.