Mr Modi is a master of messaging. So much that his silences, much like his speeches, convey a lot. And there is a pattern to his spells of silence. Mr Modi goes mum when he knows that his words might provide a healing touch to a section of population that is being terrorised and marginalised by elements in the larger Sangh Parivaar. Yes, I mean Muslims. So you will not have a word of condemnation over killings of an Akhlaq or a Pehlu Khan or other Muslims in Jharkhand or Jammu. He prefers silence while his party motormouths send across a clear and unmistakable message that Muslim lives don't matter in the India of today.
Events after the public lynching on April 1 of Pehlu Khan in Alwar are chilling to say the least. It was Dadri deja vu. Gau goons attack and kill on the assumption of cow slaughter. The BJP brigade sides with the killers. The usual "killing is wrong, but..." responses follow. The law is secondary. Assumed sentimentalities that are hurt over an assumed act (read cow killing) are paramount. A murder becomes fair game.
After the killing of Pehlu Khan in broad daylight on a highway in Rajasthan, the BJP has sent a clear message that it firmly stands with killers. The state's Home Minister, Gulab Chand Kataria, who is directly responsible for law and order, first underplayed and then sought to justify the medievalism and barbarism of the attack in the name of the holy cow. Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi even went on to say on the floor of the House that "the incident didn't happen on the ground as narrated by the opposition members" who quoted newspaper reports detailing the mob violence. This, to my mind, was a new low in state denialism.
Through all this, Vasundhara Raje, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, kept quiet. Not a word of consolation for the family of Pehlu Khan, no assurance of justice. Ditto with the government of Haryana, whose citizen Pehlu Khan was. No word from anyone in power that they cared. Ms Raje's case is further disturbing as she is not known to be a rabid, rabblerouser, flagbearing Hindutva icon unlike her counterparts in Haryana and UP. What author Aatish Taseer wrote about her, in his recent piece in The New York Times, is thought-provoking: "Vasundhara Raje, the chief minister of Rajasthan, is someone I grew up around in Delhi and have known all my life. She is aristocratic and is educated. She had many Muslim friends and even a Muslim boyfriend. She was a single mother, like mine. She smoked, she drank; she is well-read and widely traveled. She certainly seemed the beneficiary of liberal values. That someone like her would now refuse to speak up for a poor Muslim farmer with small children who was lynched in her state is an indication of how poisoned the air has become in three short years since the BJP came to power.".
Senior journalist Shekhar Gupta too was baffled by Ms Raje's silence in the wake of a horrible tragedy in her state. "To me, most surprising in the entire episode is the silence of Vasundhara, who I have known for years as a liberal person. If she is not ready to console the victims today, it means that she has changed fundamentally," he said on NDTV's show Left, Right and Centre.
So we have a situation today where the extreme and fringe elements of the BJP and the larger Sangh Parivaar are in overdrive to put Muslims in their place, both by their words and actions, and the people in positions of responsibility stay silent. Is the message lost on anyone? It's now not possible in the BJP for the saner, liberal voices to speak or act as they are convinced that it is rabid Hindutva that will keep them afloat.
As for the Prime Minister himself, he shares the grief of terror victims in Stockholm, but could not get himself to tweet a few words of reassurance to the family of Pehlu Khan.
The BJP, as a party, has never claimed to be liberal. But today, the stoic silence of some of its moderate faces tells us that its leaders are no more leaders of people, but have surrendered to mobs. This mentality is voiced by BJP MLA from Ramgarh in Alwar district Gyandev Ahuja: "Janta toh bheed hai. Aur bheed hee tantra hai" (People are a mob and the mob is the system) he said after the killing of Pehlu Khan. Leaders are abandoning leadership and cheering the wild mob.
Pehlu Khan's murder was not the first incident of a mob lynching the law of the land. The truly unfortunate part is that the political response has ensured that it will not be the last either.
(Mohd Asim is Senior News Editor, NDTV 24x7)
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