Union Minister Jayant Singh has triggered outrage after he posed in photographs with eight men convicted of lynching a Muslim trader in Jharkhand, and welcomed them at his residence near Hazaribagh.
In photographs of the meeting that emerged on Friday, Singh is seen with the convicted men who are wearing garlands.
On June 29, last year, a mob of over 100 people had lynched Alimuddin Ansari in Bazartand in Ramgarh, which is part of Singh's Lok Sabha constituency. Accusing Ansari of carrying beef in his car, the cow vigilantes beat him mercilessly and set his vehicle on fire.
Eleven men, including a BJP leader named Nityanand Mahto, were convicted of murder and handed life sentences by a fast track court in March.
When they were convicted, Singh, who is in charge of the civil aviation portfolio at the Centre, had called for a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation. "I firmly believe that complete justice has not been done," he said.
After the Jharkhand High Court suspended the life sentences on June 29 and granted them bail, the eight men walked out of the Jai Prakash Narain Central Jail and headed to the residence of the minister. News18reported that they were led by a BJP leader, Amardeep Yadav, who is also the OBC Morcha president of the party.
Yadav said that Singh had always believed the convicted men were framed in the case. "That's why he provided legal and monetary assistance to them in his personal capacity. There is nothing wrong in supporting innocent people," he said.
Leader of the Opposition in Jharkhand, Hemant Soren, tweeted, "This is despicable."
Congress Party's Ajoy Kumar, a lawmaker from the Jamshedpur Lok Sabha constituency, said, Singh was regarded "among the most educated minister in PM Modi's cabinet." "Do they have no work to show except playing politics on dead bodies and dividing society," he said.