THE writing on the wall is clear: the NDA government’s image is going to be increasingly affected in an adverse manner if Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not intervene to rein in the fringe extreme elements claiming to represent Hindu interests. The opposition parties and the media have been asking for Modi’s intervention to check violence in the name of Hindu religion, but now the Shiromani Akali Dal, an ally of the BJP, has joined the chorus. SAD leader Naresh Gujral has slammed the BJP for failing to act against “rotor-mouths”. Gujral was obviously hinting at the statements of certain BJP leaders after the lynching of 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq at Dadri in Greater Noida on the suspicion that he had slaughtered a cow and stored its meat in his fridge. Union Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma described the lynching as an “accident”. Party MP Sangeet Som alleged that “cow killers” were protected and “rescued” by the Akhilesh Yadav government. In a media interview, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said: “Muslim rahein, magar is desh mein beef khaana chhodna hi hoga unko. Yahan ki manyata hai gau (Muslims can stay, but in this country they will have to give up eating beef. The cow is an article of faith here).” BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj demanded death penalty for cow slaughter and justified violence against “cow killers” and beef eaters.
The lynching of a man on the suspicion of him slaughtering a cow and eating beef at Dadri was certainly not an ordinary case of murder. A 200-strong Hindu mob had dragged him out of his home and killed him. This was a kind of insanity that ran totally contrary to the values and ethos of governance by rule of law in democratic India. If mobs were going to kill people on suspicion it would make a mockery of the justice system. In democratic India, the power and authority to declare someone guilty and award him or her punishment rests with the court alone. As the Prime Minister of the country Narendra Modi and as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Akhilesh Yadav, both owed it to the people to assure them of at least three things: One, the instigators, conspirators and perpetrators of the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq would be prosecuted for exemplary punishment. Two, the organisations and individuals that are patronising, instigating and organising people on religious lines would be prevented from doing those activities. Three, those in the BJP or Samajwadi Party who were making statements intended to provoke people on religious lines and thus embolden the violent-minded groups and individuals to indulge in horrifying mob murders like at Dadri must be restrained. Till date, neither Modi nor Yadav have taken effective action on these lines.
The result is boost to insanity. A 28-year-old Muslim from Saharanpur named Noman was beaten to death by a mob near Shimla in Himachal Pradesh on Wednesday on the suspicion of being a cattle smuggler. Four other young men, who were with Noman, were also beaten and are seriously injured. Now, the Nahan-Shimla Highway that connects Punjab to Haryana and Uttar Pradesh has been used for cattle smuggling for years. Cases of cattle smuggling registered by local police stations are not uncommon. “Thousands of cattle are smuggled every day and it isn’t new,” Sadananad Chauhan, a former MLA from Nahan and a member of the Lok Janshakti party says. “Smugglers hire poor and unemployed for as little as Rs 2,000 to transport these cattle.” But Himachal Pradesh had never seen man-hunting “Hindu vigilantism” before. Never had the Hindu and Muslim communities here fought, not even during the Partition.
Surely, it indicates the susceptibility of every part of the country to the explosive intolerance that is breaching its limits. The nation expects the Prime Minister to take action against forces and elements that are promoting religious hatred in collaboration with the chief ministers. After a long silence he spoke about Dadri but a mere line or two are not enough. Because the atmosphere of gross hatred and violence is not only damaging the NDA, the BJP and Prime Minister Modi but also the nation’s social fabric. To begin with, he should restrain the ministers and MPs of his party from making provocative utterances. He prides himself as a problem solver: he should find innovative ways to restore sanity in society and politics. Some signs are visible, but they are very feeble. The BJP has distanced itself from Khattar’s statement, saying it was not the party line. Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu publicly said the party believes “Eating is a personal choice of people.” BJP president Amit Shah summoned Khattar, Mahesh Sharma, Sangeet Som and Sakshi Maharaj on Sunday and was believed to have warned them against making inflammatory comments and conveyed Modi’s displeasure to them. We hope this is the first of the many steps the Prime Minister and BJP leadership would take in order to defuse the atmosphere of religious hatred and violence.