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Dadri Murder: The story of silence and selective outrage

New Delhi,Arghya Roy Chowdhury(dna): It has been more than a week since the horrific Dadri lynching incident shook our collective conscience. For those who believe that idea of India is pluralistic with multiple strands of thought process and beliefs living peacefully with a common pledge to the Constitution, the belief has been dealt a deadly blow by this brutal incidence of mob violence with gross communal overtones.

BJP MLA Sangeet Som addresses residents of the Dadri village.

Muzaffarnagar riot accused BJP MLA Sangeet Som addresses residents of the Dadri village.

The already vitiated situation in Bisara village in Dadri has been further poisoned by provocative speeches given by politicians. Beyond the thin veneer of condemnation, a section of politicians, especially those from BJP, have tried to tone down the gruesomeness of the murder with Union Minister Mahesh Sharma even terming it as an accident. BJP MLA Sangeet Som says he will try to get bail for the accused (8 out of 11 related to a BJP leader) whom he has already declared as innocent. MP Sakshi Maharaj says that his supporters and he are willing to get killed and kill for cows. Others like MP Tarun Vijay have written about how beef festivals and ‘provocative butchering of cows’ are to blamed for such ‘aberrations’.

On the other end of the spectrum, the likes of Azam Khan are trying to score cheap political points by pledging to raise the issue at the UN when the state government is run by his own party, SP. The Dadri incident like the infamous Nirbhaya rape case has hit international headlines and is likely to further tarnish the image of a country aspiring to be a global superpower, something even PM Modi with his high-flying foreign trips may find difficult to undo immediately.

This begs the question: Why is PM Modi keeping a stoic silence about the incident? There are many who believe that this incident is about the degrading law and order issue of UP , and that it is the responsibility of the state. Hence, they reason, the PM is not compelled to say anything about an issue not directly under his purview. They miss a vital point. The larger question is whether Narendra Modi’s dream of Swachh Bharat should be about clean roads or clean minds too. As senior journalist Ravish Kumar writes poignantly in his column, there was not a trace of remorse in Bisara village, as if nothing had happened. In fact, according to Ravish, in Mohammed Akhlaq’s village of Bisara the youth are more hostile and radicalised than the older generation, exhibiting strong orthodoxy and completely messing up the concepts of rights and freedom of expression.

Thus the malice is deep rooted with a sense of victimisation on one side and persecution o the other. In this volatile situation, isn’t it the job of the Prime Minister to act as the conscience keeper of the nation, to act as a moral compass, guardian for the 125 crore ‘deshbasis’, he proudly mentions in his foreign trip? He promptly intervened when his home state was burning post the Patel agitation. PM’s reassurance and appeal for communal harmony can act as a soothing balm for the aggrieved, as a red-alert to the mischief makers and rumour mongers, as an emboldening message for the law enforcement bodies. BJP ultimately wants to replace Congress as the natural party for governance in India. But for it to truly become so, it needs to get itself wrapped in the secular ethos that binds our nation, not merely as lip service but via tangible action. The PM condemned Giriraj Singh during the elections for his ‘go to Pakistan, if you don’t support Modi’ comment. The condemnation came after much uproar but once the dust settled down, we saw Giriraj being part of the cabinet. Sanjeev Baliyan whose name cropped up in the Muzaffarnagar riots case is also part of the Modi government. All these instances embolden the so called ‘fringe’ to become mainstream because they believe they will soon get legitimacy and perhaps even a reward or two. It is for BJP to decide whether it wants to be a modern right wing party with a developmental agenda or a regressive outfit where development is only used as a smokescreen.

Now moving over to the issue of selective outrage, while the BJP, and the Hindu-right so to speak, has rightly been criticised, there has been very little indignation shown towards the Akhilesh government which rules Uttar Pradesh. The broadly Left-liberal ecosystem which dominates the intellectual class of our country seems to have taken an extreme lenient view of the SP government, which is fundamentally responsible for maintaining peace and order. Is this because they somehow feel morally compelled not to criticise a government run by a ‘secular’ party? If so, then that is problematic because not only are they being intellectually dishonest, they are also giving free hand to a party under whose rule the state has witnessed instances of communal violence consistently.

According to the Home Ministry, in 2014 there were 133 riots in UP, 26 people were killed and 374 were wounded. In 2013, the Muzaffarnagar riots further deepened the fault lines in the UP cauldron. This year, based on all-India figures, instances of communal violence have increased by around 30% in the first six months and here again UP cuts a sorry figure. Clearly the Akhilesh Yadav government has some serious answering to do. UP is a massive state to govern with population of excess of 20 crore, but has the Akhilesh government even shown the will to establish a rule of law there? Like in the case of Muzaffarnagar riots, the response time is usually slow, and often there have been accusations of police investigation being driven by political interests. According to reports, the Sahai Commission enquiry on Muzaffarnagar riots also blamed SP leaders apart from BJP leaders for fomenting communal tension. Thus, it is not enough for Akhilesh Yadav to merely pass the buck onto BJP. He needs to get his act together, with just a few years to go for state elections. Low intensity riots may increase further to ensure polarisation and the duty of the state government should be to crackdown on all without pandering to its perceived vote-bank.

Dadri will probably not be the last incident to test the secular fabric of the country. It is up to the politicians and opinion makers to truly demonstrate great responsibility commensurate to their great power and try to sensitise the population and speak out against evil without caring for labels, ideology or narrow gains. Till then, we will merely outrage and move on.