The BJP's Alibis For the Lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq

Mohammad Akhlaq, 50, had lived his entire life in the village that killed him. His father before him had lived and died in Bisara. Ikram, Akhlaq's widow, remembered filling the tiffin boxes of Hindu neighbours with the mutton she cooked every Id. These neighbours, young men she recognised and named to the police afterwards, broke down her door, dragged out her husband and bludgeoned him to death with bricks. They beat Danish, the dead man's son, to an inch of his life; after two brain surgeries he remains in a coma, fighting for his life. They blackened Danish's grandmother's eyes. A mob of two hundred Hindu men, incited by the village priest, killed a Muslim neighbour and nearly killed his son on the strength of a rumour that they had been eating beef.

This murderous village is a part of Uttar Pradesh, a state ruled by the the Samajwadi Party. Since law and order is a state subject, the Bharatiya Janata Party bears no administrative responsibility for the mayhem. And yet, members of the BJP--local party officials, a Rajya Sabha MP, the union minister of culture--lined up to play down the wickedness and culpability of this lynch mob.

This is why the death of Mohammad Akhlaq is more than an individual tragedy. The concerted attempt by responsible members of India's ruling party to minimize the culpability of the killers and the malignant bigotry of the mob, their eagerness to treat the assailants as their political clients merely because they happen to be Hindu, shows us how instinctively majoritarian the BJP is and how little the responsibilities of national office have tempered that reflexive communalism.

So Srichand Sharma the vice-president of the BJP's western UP unit, and Nawab Singh Nagar, former BJP MLA from Dadri told the Indian Express that the killing of Akhlaq was not premeditated or planned. It was provoked by cow-slaughter. In Sharma's words, "there was a clash and in the ensuing fight a man died." A clash. That's one way of describing what happened...if you're a one-eyed sectarian with an axe to grind, but anyone with binocular vision will see a man dragged out of his house and beaten to death as the victim of purposeful murder.

For Nagar, the possibility that Akhlaq and his family had been eating beef was an extenuating circumstance. That and the righteous wrath of provoked Hindus. "This is a village of Thakurs and they express their sentiments in a very strong way." Yes, this hotblooded horde of two hundred warriors was irresistible when it came to roughing up old women, murdering a middle-aged man and nearly killing his son. This, in the BJP's lexicon, is kshatriya valour.

Sharma went on to demand that the charge of murder be withdrawn. He wanted an FIR be lodged against the murdered man's Muslim family for allegedly slaughtering a cow. He threatened to mobilize a mahapanchayat in Bisara to protest against police harassment.

This genius for special pleading isn't limited to the BJP's rank and file. Tarun Vijay, RSS ideologue and BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha, wrote an op-ed in the Indian Express that began with a grotesque misreading of a question posed by Sajida, the dead man's daughter. Responding to the UP police's decision to 'forensically' examine the meat in Akhlaq's refrigerator to determine if it was beef, Sajida asked "If the results prove that it was not beef, will they bring back my dead father?" The desolation and anger behind the rhetorical question was lost on Vijay who chose to read it as a kind of resigned maturity, a refusal to 'politicize' her father's death. For the fanatical operative, everything is grist to the mill; even a daughter's grief can be reworked and pressed into the the service of spin.

The rest of Vijay's piece is a riot of diversionary non sequiturs. What about Tika Lal Taploo? What about cows? What about Dalits? What about Dalit women? On the why and the who of Akhlaq's murder, Vijay had nothing to say except that they shouldn't have killed him on the basis of a rumour.

The men who murdered Akhlaq killed him publicly because the ideological colour of the NDA government and precedents like Muzaffarnagar have fostered a sense of impunity. They knew that powerful, politically-connected men like Nagar, Sharma and Vijay would speak for them. Their local MP, Mahesh Sharma, is the union minister of culture and he rose to the occasion. The killing of Akhlaq, he declared, was an accident. "If someone claims the incident was pre-planned, I completely refute this. What happened was an accident. It is unfortunate." This mealy-mouthed majoritarian will say anything to appease his Hindu constituents. He will even describe a bloody lynching as an accident.

Tireless optimists who expect Mahesh Chandra's boss, the Prime Minister, to intervene in this matter and use the power of his office to reassure Bisara's Muslims of their safety and well-being, will have to wait awhile. During the general election in 2014,  Mr Modi made speeches in Bihar where he re-mixed the BJP's cow-slaughter theme song with a new title, the 'Pink Revolution'. The lyrics of this new version went like this: the UPA government had subsidized cow-slaughter, butchers had grown rich on the back of meat exports...did Yadavs really want to make common cause with people who killed the sacred cow? The BJP has always used the bogey of cow-slaughter for electoral mobilization; targeting Muslims for killing cows has been the blood sport of the majoritarian right for decades now. Given that it worked the last time, why would its leadership fix a moving part with another Bihar election on the horizon?

Mukul Kesavan is a writer based in Delhi. His most recent book is 'Homeless on Google Earth' (Permanent Black, 2013).

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