IN his customary address at the Vijayadashami function of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its chief Mohan Bhagwat tried, in vain, to kill several birds with one stone. He claimed that the term ‘lynching’ was a western construct that was being used to defame India as well as Hindus. He also attempted to dissociate the Sangh from any kind of mob violence and denied charges of Islamophobia against the right-wing outfit. Bhagwat only ended up displaying selective amnesia.
With apologies to Shakespeare, a lynching by any other name would be as heinous. In July last year, the Supreme Court had told the Union and state governments that ‘horrific acts of mobocracy’ could not be allowed to become the new normal, while underscoring the urgency to protect India’s ‘pluralist social fabric’ from bloodthirsty mobs. Five months later, Manipur had become the first state to pass a law against lynching. The fact that a government, and that too BJP-ruled, promulgated the Protection from Mob Violence Ordinance, flies in the face of Bhagwat’s ‘alien concept’ theory.
In most cases of lynchings in recent years, the role of cow vigilantes or religious fanatics has come to light. The chilling murder of Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer, at Alwar in 2017 and other such hate crimes prompted the Rajasthan Assembly to follow in Manipur’s footsteps. In June this year, Jharkhand’s Tabrez Ansari had died after he was beaten up with rods while tied to a pole and forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ over an alleged theft. These incidents have largely been the handiwork of elements emboldened by the Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva push amid the BJP’s pan-India hegemony. The RSS has been generally loath to condemn violence directed at the minorities and has made little or no effort to allay their fears. Hate-mongers like Pragya Thakur and Sakshi Maharaj have been allowed to spew venom. The sincerity or otherwise of Bhagwat’s message of maintaining harmony and upholding the rule of law would be demonstrated by how RSS workers and supporters acquit themselves on the ground.