The lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, not far away from the national capital, New Delhi, has shocked and dismayed most Indians but not, as it turns out, for the same reasons.
Akhlaq was killed by a mob which broke into his house because there was a rumour that he and his family had eaten beef. His son lies in hospital from injuries sustained during the attack. The family is shattered.
Youth protest the Dadri lynching incident, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Tuesday. Pic/PTI
But after the shock subsided, the Great Indian Political Game began. As it happens, there is no political party which cannot be put in the dock on charges of vitiating the atmosphere. They all play some victim card; some help X more than Y, some ignore Z to benefit A. But in this particular case, you have a Samajwadi Party government at the state level and a BJP-led government at the Centre. And both have to take responsibility.
Of course, I say that, but we all know that they won’t. That area of Uttar Pradesh has been on the boil since 2013, with communal riots, deaths and rapes. The state government’s law and order system has been unable to make a change or gain control. And the BJP and its affiliate organisations have stoked communal fires, whether for electoral gains or to fulfil their ambitions of social and cultural hegemony.
Nothing was different in Mohammed Akhlaq’s murder either. The police sent the suspicious meat for testing, as if had it been beef Akhlaq’s murder would be justified. It was not beef, as it turned out. And the BJP politicians descended on the area with their own brand of bizarre sympathy for Muslims when they are victims. Union culture minister Mahesh Sharma called the murder an accident and pointed out that the murdered man’s daughter was not molested. This proved something about a bunch of killers only he understands.
Sangeet Som, who had made several incendiary remarks in the area since 2013 and is an accused in the 2013 riots, said that cow-killers were being defended and had to be punished. The BJP defence is that Som once belonged to the Samajwadi Party. However, he is now part of the BJP and won an election on a BJP ticket.
The Union finance minister Arun Jaitley said that incidents like this are setting India’s economic progress back, because that is all that matters. A member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an affiliate organisation of the BJP, said that people who kill cows deserve this sort of fate. This sentiment has been repeated by several similarly inclined minds. Let no one pretend that the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have not heightened anger in
society and laid down burning lines of hatred between religious communities.
So now, we have a society where some people are shocked that a man can be killed in his own home depending on what he ate for dinner and others say that people who eat some kinds of meat deserve to be killed. Let us ignore for now that Akhlaq had not eaten beef that night. What if anyone was eating beef at home: is murder the correct recourse for your own hurt sentiments? Is this the sort of India that you want for yourself in the 21st century?
Some people are asking themselves whether this was the government they had voted for in 2014. Unfortunately for them and their naiveté, the answer is yes. These are voters who did not do their homework or decided to suspend disbelief and buy all the prime minister’s election rhetoric and PR bumpf about development and the “Gujarat model”. They need to look back at the last year and a half and find any strong statement by Narendra Modi condemning outright any communal or divisive remark by his party members or those of the Sangh Parivar. I wish them luck in this search. There is no way you can separate the BJP from Hindutva and that is what we are seeing in Dadri and elsewhere.
The question for the rest of us remains — and it is the most important question of the day — is this the India that we want?
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona