A 31-year-old Muslim man with links to the Bharatiya Janata Party was brutally thrashed by alleged cow vigilantes in public on suspicion of carrying beef in Maharashtra's Nagpur district, police said on Thursday.
Police arrested four people for the assault on Wednesday after a video of the incident showing the man being kicked and punched even after he fell to the ground went viral.
The incident drew strong condemnation from the ruling BJP's coalition partner Shiv Sena, besides the opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party.
However, the BJP sought to play it down, calling it a "stray" incident.
The mother of the victim -- Salim Ismail Sheikh -- claimed he was the head of the BJP's Katol tehsil minority morcha, while a local BJP leader acknowledged he was a party member.
Sheikh, a resident of Katol town, was returning home on his motorcycle when 5-6 men accosted him at a bus stop in Bharsingi village on suspicion that he was carrying beef. They demanded that they be shown the meat. When he resisted, the men assaulted him, Nagpur rural Superintendent of Police Shailesh Balkawade said.
Sheikh suffered injuries to his face and neck, and was admitted to a hospital in Nagpur from where he was discharged on Thursday.
The police established the identity of the accused after going through the footage of a purported video clip of the incident. Two of the accused were arrested last night and others this morning, the SP said.
Those arrested were identified as Ashwin Uike (35), Rameshwar Taywade (42), Moreshwar Tandurkar (36) and Jagdish Chaudhari (25). They were booked under IPC sections 326 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt) and 34 (acts done in furtherance of common intention), the SP said.
Section 326 of IPC attracts a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.
All four were produced before a judicial magistrate's court in Katol and remanded in police custody till July 17, Balkawade added.
The SP said the meat Sheikh was carrying was seized and sent to a forensic lab in Nagpur for tests.
The police were trying to ascertain whether the accused were cow vigilantes, he said.
While Sheikh refused to speak to the media, his mother said her son was innocent. He was a cotton trader and the head of BJP's Katol tehsil minority morcha, she said.
Rajiv Potdar, chief of BJP's Nagpur rural unit, said Sheikh was a member of the party and was an office bearer of its tehsil unit between 2013 and 2016.
The BJP strongly condemns the attack, he said.
The incident drew sharp reactions from political parties. The Shiv Sena said if such incidents kept happening there will be "chaos" in the country.
"How can it be that the prime minister warns gaurakshaks (cow protectors), but (still) they ignore him? We think there is an ulterior motive behind this.
"An attempt is being made to shift the focus away from the Modi government's failure to retaliate strongly against the terrorists who killed Amarnath pilgrims," Manisha Kayande, the spokesperson for the Sena, which has been often been critical of BJP and the Centre on a variety of issues like demonetisation and the Modi government's Pakistan policy, said in Mumbai.
BJP spokesman Niranjan Shetty said despite the prime minister's warning, one cannot "get into the minds" of those perpetrating violence so as to prevent such attacks. "We condemn this incident, but one cannot term it a failure of law and order machinery because this is a stray incident," he said.
Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan said continued occurrence of such incidents showed that "nobody takes the prime minister seriously". He said his party would raise the issue in the state Assembly and the upcoming Parliament session.
NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said since the chief minister hailed from Nagpur, the "gravity of the incident was greater".
"Can Fadnavis, who also holds the Home portfolio, ensure that such incidents do not recur?" Malik asked.