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Bulandshahr violence: Congress and BJP's pandering to religious extremists could cause permanent damage to body politic

In a way, the lynching of Station House Officer Subodh Kumar Singh by a mob over alleged cow slaughter in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr district completes a cycle that began with the lynching of Dadri's Mohammad Akhlaq in 2015 over rumours of beef eating: which sparked a chain of such violence in many parts of North India. Singh was first police officer to investigate Akhlaq’s killing and he apparently did a good job by bringing in evidence quickly, leading to the arrest of the accused.

That Singh was immediately transferred and the chargesheet filed by another officer; that all 18 accused are out on bail and their trial is yet to begin seems like part of the same cycle of cynical political order seeking to normalise mob violence in the name of religion. It tears asunder any semblance to a syncretic and pluralistic culture or society that Indians boast of and presents a grave danger to the very idea of India governed by a secular Constitution.

 Bulandshahr violence: Congress and BJPs pandering to religious extremists could cause permanent damage to body politic

People protesting over alleged cow slaughter in Bulandshahr. Image: 101Reporters

It is bad enough that no one expects the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre and state to speak against such violence, let alone act decisively: after all, they are the ones tasked with governance by a popular mandate and are answerable to the people for such incidents. The main political Opposition, the Congress, seems to have abdicated its responsibility too. Not only has it turned Singh’s killing to a mere law-and-order issue, as its spokesman did at a press conference, it adopted a similar strategy in its poll campaigns in Rajasthan’s Alwar —  apparently the ground zero of cow vigilantism in Rajasthan with three such killings in 2017 — Pehlu Khan in Behror, Rakbar Khan and Umar Khan in nearby Ramgarh.

A national daily said this morning: “From its manifesto to public rallies, social media and posters, the Congress underscores public security and the rising crime rate in Alwar, but steers clear of mob violence fearing a Hindu backlash”. This reluctance to stand up by both the main political players is akin to appeasement of the majority Hindu community and is evidently, undesirable in a pluralistic society. For, these are not isolated incidents of communal violence (the family members of Singh have alleged that his killing is linked to Akhlaq’s killing in TV interviews today). There is a pattern to it all over the country.

In the Sabarimala case, both the BJP and Congress are opposing the entry of women into the temple, ironically in the name of upholding a Hindu tradition which goes against both constitutional values and morality. In the case of changing Muslim names, erecting a statue for Lord Ram or the ongoing rath yatra demanding a law to build a Ram temple even as the case is pending before the Supreme Court, the Congress remains silent. In the election campaigns in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana too, the BJP and Congress are indulging in competitive appeasement of the majority community on religious lines.

It would be foolish to dismiss such pandering as mere election gimmicks or that it would not lead to deep or permanent fissures in society or body politic: it would, sooner than later. The disaffection now caused will continue beyond the round of Assembly elections or 2019 general elections. Recall how ‘Muslim appeasement’ became a big political issue in 1980s and 1990s, unleashed widespread violence (including a series of riots and bomb blasts in Mumbai and elsewhere in the country) and changed the political course.

If something similar were to happen again, it will be equally difficult to put the genie back into the bottle. Attempts to play down the impact of such disruptions or dismiss it as a temporary phenomenon arising out of either frustration due to growing unemployment or any such excuses will be self-defeating.

It is in this context that the grand old party has an obligation to fulfil. The BJP and its affiliates may do what they will, but what will prevent derailment of a pluralistic society or constitutional order? The political Left is now virtually confined to one state and its role in fashioning national politics is quite limited. Imagine if the Congress continues to imitate the BJP, both the Sabarimala and Ayodhya agitation will dominate the body politic in the months to come, providing excuses for not focusing on the real issues or governance: poor job creation, fears of economic slowing, and mob violence. The Supreme Court can only do so much; it can’t establish a political order, make laws or run governments. What will happen if the Supreme Court is defied in the Ayodhya case, if its ruling is not up to the expectations of the BJP and its associated organisations with the Congress being a bystander?

It is indeed scary to imagine such an eventuality. The consequences of religion dictating or hijacking the political order are not unknown to our subcontinent.

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Updated Date: Jan 08, 2019 13:11:30 IST