On 28 September, India witnessed one of its most chilling murders when 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, following rumours that he and his family had consumed beef. While certain politicians are attempting to pass of the murder as an "accident", I believe that it is more accurately viewed as part of a well-planned conspiracy to foment trouble between two communities that had been living together peacefully until that point.
The state of Uttar Pradesh has witnessed multiple incidents of communal violence ever since the Samajwadi Party came to power, the worst being the Muzaffarnagar riots, where more than 60 people lost their lives and tens of thousands of people were displaced from their homes. The government's inept handling of the situation and the absence of action against the perpetrators has come under severe criticism, including from the Supreme Court. One of the accused is the BJP MLA Sangeet Som, who is a prime suspect for inciting the violence. He was charged for uploading a fake video that showed a Muslim mob brutally murdering a Hindu youth. The same Som is now being charged for making inflammatory speeches in Dadri, and accusing the state government for rescuing the "cow killers".
"[Modi] should take immediate steps to remove the demagogues from the BJP, before they not only sully his image but cause irreparable harm to the party."
BJP leaders, too, have made unfortunate statements that only aggravated the situation. Member of Parliament Sakshi Maharaj, who had once blamed Rahul Gandhi for the earthquake in Nepal, had this to say on the Dadri lynching: "If someone insults our mother, we would rather die than tolerate it... for us, [our mother] is Bharat mata, our biological mother and gau mata..." This statement came immediately after the party had reprimanded a few members for making controversial statements.
Azam Khan of the Samajwadi Party, in the meantime, went ahead and wrote a letter to the United Nations , highlighting the plight of Muslims in India and calling for the international body's intervention. Then there was All India Majlis-e Ittihad al-Muslimin (AIMIM) leader Akbaruddin Owaisi , who is facing charges for a speech in which he referred to Narendra Modi as a "shaitan" (devil). Intemperate speeches and comments designed to add more fuel to the fire are clearly the order of the day.
A group of academics who had visited Dadri on 2 October to understand what led to the incident came out with a report that described the sophistication of forces behind such communal violence. "It's all about low-intensity, high-impact communal violence that targets better-off Muslims, and puts a general sense of fear in the minds of others," stated the report. The group has also called for action against Union Culture Minister and MP for Gautam Budh Nagar Mahesh Sharma for inciting violence against journalists.
Amidst this widespread turmoil, all we have from the Prime Minister is a belated message of bland regret. It is difficult to fathom the reasons for Mr Modi's silence, and also his inability to rein in his MPs and ministers. Is there an invisible hand restraining him from speaking his mind? The longer this reticence continues, the more it will be construed as evidence of tacit approval of what is happening in the country. It is here that he should take a cure from US President Obama who strongly and emotionally condemned the recent college shooting in Oregon. Let us not forget that America is the most federal nation in the world, and the President has no say in law and order. But he does not use that as an excuse to brush aside important issues.
The Centre may indeed not have a direct role in the Dadri incident, but the Prime Minister could go a long way in assuaging the fears of minorities if he at the very least released a statement strongly condemning the killing of Akhlaq. Why don't we hear from him instead of the likes of Azam Khan, Owaisi, Sakshi Maharaj and Sangeet Som? While it's true that he recently had some repeat offenders reprimanded and made known his displeasure at their antics, he needs to go a step further.
The people of India have invested their hope and faith in the Prime Minster. He should take immediate steps to remove the demagogues from the BJP, before they not only sully his image but cause irreparable harm to the party.