BJP MP and union minister Jayant Sinha's weird act of felicitating eight men convicted for the 2017 lynching of a Muslim meat trader in Jharkhand cannot be seen as an isolated incident. Instead, it should be viewed as part of his party's well thought out and consciously choreographed political strategy of polarisation or attempt to win over the votes of the majority Hindu community at the expense of non-Hindu votes ahead of the upcoming general elections.
The fact that not a single bigwig from the ruling party or the government has condemned or opposed Jayant Sinha's well publicised act indicates that it may well have been choreographed at the highest levels, or indirectly blessed by the powers that be.
Seen from that lens, the Jayant Sinha event that went viral on social media — he garlanding the convicts in the lynching case of meat trader Alimuddin Ansari in Jharkhand at his residence on the outskirts of Hazaribagh, his Lok Sabha constituency, and hand-feeding sweets to them — may not be that weird! The purported message may well be the BJP's political template and agenda for the next general elections.
Alimuddin was intercepted by a mob and beaten to death in June 2017 for his alleged act of transporting beef in his vehicle near Bazartand village after which his vehicle too was set ablaze. The life sentences of the convicts were suspended by the Jharkhand High Court and after getting bail they headed to Sinha's residence, where the minister feted them publicly.
Now, look at more facts to solve this jigsaw puzzle. Jayant Sinha is not the first minister in the Modi government to fete lynchers as his colleague Mahesh Sharma had done this in 2015 when he justified the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri on the grounds that the perpetrators' sentiments had been hurt.
Also, another important and cold piece of statistics stares the Modi government in its face — that in the past one year, 27 people have been killed in 15 cases of lynchings by mobs across nine states, from Assam to Tamil Nadu. Many of these lynchings took place as the mob suspected people of being child-lifters. The latest such case was the lynching of five persons in Maharashtra's Dhule on July 1 which prompted the union home ministry to ask the states and Union territories to check incidents of mob lynching fuelled by rumours of child-lifting on social media.
But lynching is lynching. It doesn't matter whether it happens in the name of child-lifting or cow slaughter. The law is the same. The punishment is the same. An unchecked spate in such acts of lynchings only goes to show that the perpetrators fear nothing and no one. The point of worry creeps in when one is left wondering whether there is a method to this madness — and more importantly, whether there is political patronage.
This is the question that comes up in the Jayant Sinha episode too. Sinha has defended his actions, saying he "unequivocally condemns all acts of violence and rejects any type of vigilantism" and is committed to "honouring the due process of law".
But isn't it plain and simple subterfuge and an attempt to obfuscate the whole issue considering that the men feted by him have been convicted by appropriate courts even though they were let out on bail? Isn't the union minister trying to influence the courts in a case which is sub judice?
The case has unsurprisingly taken political hues with the main Opposition party, the Congress, taking on the Modi dispensation head on. Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal waded into the controversy on Sunday, July 8, saying people have termed the BJP government "lynch-pujari".
This is what Sibal tweeted about the Sinha episode:
8 accused convicted for lynching are garlanded by Jayant Sinha when granted bail .You got it wrong Modiji .They say your Government has become :Lynch-Pujari— Kapil Sibal (@KapilSibal) July 8, 2018
Incidentally, Sibal's remarks came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a rally in Jaipur that the Congress was being called "bail gaadi" because many of its high-profile leaders and former ministers were out on bail.
The Jayant Sinha episode should not be seen as a one-off event. Rather, it seems to be a part of the BJP's larger political narrative ahead of the next general elections which are due by April 2019 but may well be held earlier towards the end of this year to coincide with Assembly polls in BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where BJP is facing an uphill task electorally.
Fasten your seat belts folks as the 2019 elections flight is bound to come up with many more air pockets like the Jayant Sinha episode. You will find more and more BJP ministers and party bigwigs rocking this flight with their acts of omission and commission.
Hasn't the trend started picking up already with Sinha's colleague in the Union cabinet and the BJP, Giriraj Singh, visiting the Nawada district jail in Bihar to meet activists of Bajrang Dal and Vishva Hindu Parishad who were arrested recently on charges of inciting communal passions?