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The desire to win elections turns everybody into a Yogi Adityanath

By Vir Sanghvi
January 04, 2022 08:39 IST
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Nobody of consequence from the BJP condemned the lynchings. Nor have the Akalis. Nor has the Aam Aadmi Party.
And nor, for that matter, have Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi who are now deeply immersed in Punjab politics, observes Vir Sanghvi.

IMAGE: Activists of various Sikh organisations gather outside the Golden Temple after a man was beaten to death at the temple premises for alleged sacrilege, in Amritsar, December 18, 2021.Photograph: PTI Photo
 

'Before 2014, the word 'lynching' was practically unheard of,' Rahul Gandhi tweeted on December 21, hashtagging his tweet #ThankYouModiji.

The Bharatiya Janata Party made a spokesperson respond by attacking Rahul's father and including a list of communal riots that broke out when the Congress was in power.

But is a communal riot the same as a lynching? The BJP was happy to say that it did not understand the distinction.

It was not even sure how to define lynchings or hate crimes.

The poor conveniently confused dears! Minister of State (Home) Nityanand Rai told Parliament, even as the tweet battle was in progress, that 'in the year 2017, the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) collected data on cases of mob lynching, hate crime etc. It was observed that the data was unreliable as these crimes have not been defined. Hence, collection of data in this regard was discontinued.'

Perhaps I can help the befuddled BJP spokespersons and ministers.

A mob lynching is a public execution by a group to punish somebody, and it often takes the form of a public spectacle.

The term is not hard to define. It originated in America and was probably derived from the name of a man called Charles Lynch who wrote that his assistant had administered Lynch's law (the original form of the term) 'for dealing with the negroes'.

The term passed into common usage after African-Americans were set upon and killed by mobs.

Between 1882 and 1951, 3,431 black people were lynched.

Racially motivated lynchings continued in the rest of the 20th century, with civil rights volunteers (many of them white) and black people being the frequent targets.

Bitter experience has taught us that lynchings usually occur when a group of people from the majority community turns on somebody from a minority community and kills him or her in full public view.

So yes, if the Government of India had managed the task of defining lynching, it would have been able to record the cases of hapless Muslims who were beaten to death in the last few years on the suspicion that they were trading in beef.

These lynchings followed the classic pattern: They were carried out in full public view and the victims were Muslims, members of a minority community.

And yet, there is something surreal about Rahul Gandhi seeking to hang the blame for lynchings only around the prime minister's neck.

Rahul's tweet came just as India was horrified by two cases of lynching.

The first took place at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

A man jumped over the railings and tried to grab the ceremonial sword kept at the Harmandir Sahib.

A granthi moved to stop him and the man was then overpowered by guards and taken away.

It was after he had been subdued and was not actually in a position to damage any holy object that he was beaten to death.

Less than 24 hours later came another lynching.

The manager of a gurdwara in Kapurthala claimed that he saw a man trying to disrespect the Nishan Sahib or holy flag.

A mob gathered around the man and though the police arrived, their presence made no difference.

The mob refused to let them take the man into custody and then attacked him, while the police watched, with sticks and swords.

The man died, was taken to the local hospital where it was found that his body had eight deep, sharp cuts.

All this occurred in the presence of the police who said later that they were unable to prevent the lynching because the mob was 'emotional'.

These incidents are horrifying enough. But here is the zinger.

The lynchings did not take place on Mr Modi's watch.

They took place in a Congress-ruled state, run by a chief minister recently appointed by Rahul Gandhi.

It gets worse. After the lynchings, the chief minister condemned the sacrilege but did not condemn the lynchings.

In fact, nobody of consequence in the Congress said a word in condemnation.

The state's Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Rahul Gandhi-protege Navjot Singh Sindhu, played to homicidal public sentiment by loudly declaring that anybody who committed an act of sacrilege should be hanged in public.

Forget about condemning the lynching; he was actually egging the mobs on.

Why, you may well ask, did the BJP not point this out when it replied to Rahul's tweets? Why did it have to go back in history and call Rahul's father names when it could have simply pointed to the hypocritical nature of the Congress's stand?

Well, because nobody of consequence from the BJP has roundly condemned the lynchings either. Nor have the Akalis. Nor has the Aam Aadmi Party.

And nor, for that matter, have Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi who are now deeply immersed in Punjab politics.

The only politician of note who spoke out was former chief minister Amarinder Singh who said 'sacrilege is wrong. But it is also wrong to kill a person. There is a law in the land. This is illegal and absolutely unacceptable.'

Why do you suppose Captain Singh is the only one to condemn the lynching? The answer is horrifying but obvious: Because today's Congress may say what it likes about the BJP's appeasement of the majority community. But when it comes to Punjab, a state it controls, it is perfectly willing to play the same game and appeal to the baser instincts of its Sikh constituency.

That, in a nutshell, is what Indian politics has become.

The desire to win elections turns everybody into a Yogi Adityanath.

Unfortunately, the Congress has been down this road before.

Rahul's grandmother believed that she could play to Sikh sentiments by encouraging Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. We know what happened next.

It may be a stretch to compare the lynchings to the situation in Punjab in the early 1980s, but they remind us of what can happen when mainstream political parties turn a blind eye to religious violence and play on sectarian sentiment.

So yes, Rahul is right. We have heard the term lynchings much more over the last few years than ever before.

But sadly, it is in a Congress-ruled state that we have heard it most recently.

Vir Sanghvi is a journalist and TV presenter.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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