On June 11, the BJP in Haryana, under the signature of Pradesh General Secretary Advocate Ved Pal, released the list of party spokespersons for the state. Third on the list was the name of Karni Sena President Suraj Pal Amu. Just ten days earlier, on May 30, this gentleman had organised a "Hindu Mahapanchayat" at Indri village in Nuh. Its declared purpose was to demand the release of "innocents" arrested for the murder of a young Muslim called Asif in the neighbouring village. The meeting was in violation of prohibitory orders under Section 144 and the Disaster Management Act in force throughout the state on account of the pandemic. Amu led the plethora of hate speeches targeting the minority community made in the meeting. His speech is available on YouTube, provocative, justifying the murder and warning of further violence. He describes all Muslims as Pakistani agents and asks if it is a crime to murder them. The man should be in jail under the relevant clauses of the law; instead, he has been rewarded by the BJP with a post as party spokesman.
Also present at the Mahapanchayat was a man called Naresh Kumar, the main accused in the lynching and murder of 15-year-old Junaid in 2017. It was a horrific case when four young men travelling on a local train from Delhi to Ballabgarh, identified through their appearance as being Muslim, were harassed, abused, beaten; then, one of them, Junaid, the youngest, was stabbed several times and thrown off the train. Naresh Kumar is out on bail granted by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. He made an equally toxic communal hate speech in which he said that whether those arrested in the Asif murder case are guilty or not, they must be defended as Hindus.
The BJP MLA from the neighbouring constituency of Sohna is on record defending the Mahapanchayat, whitewashing its open communal nature and describing it as a demand for justice against the arrest of innocents.
In fact, our own findings, after we met Asif's family in their village, showed that his murder, unlike the lynching of Junaid, was not a communally-driven hate crime. There had been earlier disputes between this gang and Asif which are on record. We also found that the gang has several criminal cases against it filed earlier on the complaints of villagers who are Hindus. The police acted on the identification of the murderers by an eyewitness, the victim's cousin, who was also badly beaten and left for dead. 12 of the 14 men named were arrested. So in the first instance, the police acted as they should.
The so-called Hindu Mahapanchayat was called in the wake of these arrests to strike many targets. The first was to get the accused released. The big mobilization, the presence of men with important political connections, the backing of those in power had its effect. Within a few days of the Mahapanchayat, four of the arrested men, identified by the eyewitness as being among the killers, were discharged by the police. Tasneem, the grieving widow of Asif, said "What justice can we expect when even before the case goes to court, my husband's killers are released?"
Many of the villagers from Hindu communities were sympathetic to Asif's family and had joined in their mourning. The only way to break this solidarity was to use the Hindu-Muslim communal card and this is what the Hindu Mahapanchayat aimed to do. The hate speeches had an immediate effect. The solidarity visits to the family ceased. When we reached the house, the mourners were all Muslims.
The village itself has a mixture of castes and communities. It so happens that the accused all belong to one caste. The gang was powerful and feared by others. In a state where caste identities and alliances play a crucial role in political domination, the ruling party has been trying to build an overarching Hindu identity even while maintaining sub-identities based on caste. The Karni Sena itself started out as a platform for Rajputs. It shot into notoriety with its violent campaign against the film Padmaavat; its chief Suraj Pal Amu had declared a reward for the beheading of the director and main actor of that film. The Sena has now adopted a cross-caste Hindu identity and the Mahapanchayat in Indri was part of this effort, clearly with the support of the ruling party.
The poster for the Mahapanchayat reads: "Pehle dharm ko bachao, jatiya apne aap bach jayenge" - first save religion, then castes will automatically get saved. This approach is of course intrinsic to the Hindutva project. But now this project has the dangerous dimension of bringing accused killers, who may belong to different castes, in crimes against the minority community, on to one platform to intensify communal polarisation. The accused in Junaid's murder belongs to a different caste from those arrested in Asif's case. His presence symbolizes this cynical new method adopted by the Hindutva organisations.
Last year there was another type of Mahapanchayat held in this region of Haryana - a Mahapanchayat not of Hindus, nor of Muslim, but of kisans. Across communities and castes, thousands of kisans had gathered, united in their opposition to the farm laws being imposed by the Modi Government. That struggle continues today. Elected leaders of the BJP, including the Chief Minister, have faced social boycotts and angry crowds of farmers. There is strong discontent against the government. The default strategy of the BJP to break the unity of the people is always to resort to communal polarisation. The Hindu Mahapanchayat has this added dimension to weaken the unity of kisans.
After his virtual address to the G-7 conclave, The Prime Minister tweeted "Was happy to address the @G7 Session on Open Societies as a Lead Speaker. Democracy and freedom are part of India's civilizational ethos, and find expression in the vibrancy and diversity of India's society." Yes, Mr Prime Minister, indeed it is so but it is precisely this diversity that is under assault by those who enjoy your party's official patronage. The gathering at Indri is the most recent example.
Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.
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