Prompt arrests in Palghar incident show state govts can always act fast to counter communalism if they want to
From 2015, 45 Muslims have been lynched by mobs, yet neither did any government functionary expressed any concern like they did in the Palghar incident nor did any government felt obliged to immediately arrest the culprits or suspend the policemen who allowed them to be lynched
When they want to, they can counter communal propaganda, and can even be both efficient and imaginative about it.
By publishing the entire list of the 101 people arrested for the lynching of two sadhus in Palghar (their driver was lynched too, but since he wasn’t wearing saffron, nobody mentions him), Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh has taken the wind out of the communal propaganda surrounding the crime.
Right from the initial report, it was obvious that the lynching was a result of irrational fear aroused by rumours about child lifters.
Such lynchings have happened before, and not just in tribal areas. Just two years back, in the first six months of 2018, and again for two months in 2019, as many as 27 persons were lynched across the country on suspicion that they were child lifters. These lynchings took place even in big cities. But they were not communalised the way the Palghar incident has been. And, no government reacted as swiftly as the Maharashtra government has this time.
The Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress coalition government’s response has been flawless. From Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray releasing a video message explaining the entire incident, to the prompt arrests, the suspension of the two policemen who let the mob kill the men and publicising the names of those arrested, the government has done everything it could.
So, does Maharashtra finally have a government that actually cares about countering communalism? One ironically, headed by the son of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray?
Alas! The primary motive for these exemplary steps is political survival. The BJP won last year’s Assembly polls, but lost the chance to return to power in the state when it refused to give the chief minister's post to its junior ally, the Shiv Sena.
Ever since, it has been waiting to dislodge the new government. It’s been six months, but the ruling coalition’s internal contradictions — a proudly Hindutva party allied with two so-called secular parties — haven’t yet sunk the government. Naturally, the BJP grabs every chance it gets to arouse public discontentment against the government. The lynching of two sadhus in a constituency represented by the CPM (Vinod Nikole defeated the sitting BJP MLA by about 5000 votes) was a godsend. And television channels known for whipping up Hindutva hysteria obliged.
There was no way the Maharashtra government could allow this. Hence the frenzy of action that followed the lynching.
There’s another reason too. This time, it wasn’t just the Maharashtra BJP which exploited the lynching. Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath also voiced their concerns. The victims were sadhus and not just ordinary Hindus after all.
WhatsApp groups alleged that saffron-clad holy men were unsafe in a state ruled by Bal Thackeray’s son, whose party flag is saffron. They recalled the honoured place sadhus had under the reign of Chhatrapati Shivaji, after whom the Shiv Sena is named. And finally, they implied that the police would never have allowed such a crime to be committed under a BJP government.
How could Uddhav not act to disprove these allegations and insinuations? Neither he nor his chief spokesman Sanjay Raut have ever dissociated themselves from Hindutva. Off and on, they’ve felt obliged to affirm their commitment to what is seen as one of their two core beliefs (the other being the rights of the sons of the soil). The Shiv Sena cannot risk losing its loyal following built up over decades. If it has to be seen as Bal Thackeray’s party, it must uphold "Hindu interests".
Uddhav, thus, had to show that the saffron-clad men were safe under him and that no cop could get away with letting sadhus be lynched.
The concern voiced over this lynching by powerful men in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh brings to mind another incident that occurred in Mumbai more than a decade ago. Sadhvi Pragya Thakur had been arrested by ATS chief Hemant Karkare for her alleged role in the 2008 Malegaon blasts, and had alleged police torture. Her allegation was taken up by then Leader of the Opposition and prime ministerial candidate LK Advani. Not only did then-prime minister Manmohan Singh himself call up Advani, but he also sent a high-level team comprising National Security Advisor MK Narayanan, IB Chief PC Haldar and ex-IB chief Ajit Doval to Advani to assure him that the allegations would be investigated. (They were, and found to be baseless).
The period between 2006-2008 were the years when a number of Muslim terror accused were in jail. Many of them had accused the police of torture. Discreet intervention by the PMO after Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Asim Azmi petitioned it, put an end to the torture of at least one set of Muslims, the family members of the Mumbai 2006 train bomb blasts accused. As for the rest, no one bothered to speak up for them.
From 2015, 45 Muslims have been lynched by mobs who support the BJP or are connected to it. No government functionary has expressed concern over any of them. No government has felt obliged to immediately arrest the accused or suspend the policemen who allowed them to be lynched.
Except for Manipur, Rajasthan and West Bengal, no state has bothered to enact anti-lynching legislation as directed by the Supreme Court in 2018. Even these three legislations have yet to be approved by the President.
Till such time as the lynchings of Muslims and Dalits create a nationwide political furore that forces governments to act, we can console ourselves with stray arrests of bigots like Gajanan Chaturvedi. The 51-year-old resident of Mira Road (a northwestern suburb where Hindus and Muslims live in separate enclaves), was arrested less than 24 hours after a Muslim courier went to the cops with a video recording of Chaturvedi’s refusal to accept a delivery order from him because he was a Muslim.
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