In a country where human life is often reduced to a mere statistic, Mohammad Akhlaq was a simple individual living a quiet, unobtrusive existence in Bisada village, Dadri, Uttar Pradesh. Then one night a nearby loudspeaker blared a vicious, aggravating call, and a murderous mob went wild, seeking retribution for violation of their religious codes. For Akhlaq, these must have been nightmarish moments. He was killed by bloodthirsty people from perhaps his own once friendly neighbourhood. The raging gathering included some who were merely 15 years old, younger than his own son, who works for the Indian Air Force. Akhlaq's fault was that he allegedly ate beef clandestinely; cow slaughter (not possession) is banned in UP, as in several states. He was a Muslim. But what that multitude of insanity forgot was that he was an Indian first.
As expected, BJP spokespersons came up with the standard cliche that is available off the shelf to politicians when they stand accused of serious transgressions; "It is a law and order problem". We unfortunately don't have futuristic technology of The Minority Report (pun unintended) kind that Steven Spielberg envisaged which could anticipate violent predilections and planned executions by the disturbed elements in our society. This was an ideological killing born out of deeply entrenched, morbid hate; most corrective measures are perennially post-facto.
Of course, the Samajwadi Party government in the state has plenty to answer for, just as it did for the orchestrated and beastly Muzzafarnagar riots. In his fact-finding report, Justice Vishnu Sahai has indicted BJP leaders for creating the communal conflagration and for SP for conveniently acquiescing in that diabolical conspiracy. 60 people died, and among the 50,000 rendered homeless, many still live in miserable conditions, rooted out from their ancestral habitation. Of the two Muzzafarnagar riots accused, Sanjeev Baliyan has been celebrated with a cabinet berth, and Sanjeev Som has the status symbol of a Z+ security. Yogi Adityanath, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Giriraj Singh and Sakshi Maharaj keep the inflammatory outbursts pouring in at periodic intervals, with each incremental salvo giving it additional explosive fuel.
Life in the meantime has moved on and India is, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one of the most attractive FDI investment destinations (although even that is disputed). Sunday champagne-brunch columnists repeatedly sing Modi's adulations and TV debates question this stubborn distraction by the Congress party for secular social harmony, a flimsy pretext it seems, to distract from Mr Modi's braggadocio of breakthrough economic growth models. Clearly, our priorities seem warped.
Within days of Akhlaq's tragic killing, senior BJP leaders appeared distraught at the public outrage on their close proximity to extreme right-wing Hindutva elements; but there was no explicit condemnation of that heinous act; in fact, one callously declared that it was on account of "excitement", while another said it was a "misunderstanding". India's moral fibre hangs by a thread.
I was on a TV program with well-known journalist Nikhil Wagle who is also on the radar screen of the fanatical fundamentalists who have already pumped bullets in respected scholars of the rationalist philosophy such as MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar. I was flabbergasted not at the crafty, ambivalent defence of the ghastly perpetrators of the crime by the BJP spokespeople, but at the complete absence of human empathy. It marked an abysmal low; where a dangerous violent threat was dismissed with contemptuous indifference. KS Bhagwan has joined the illustrious list of targeted academics. A not-so subtle transformation is happening in TV studios too; TV debates are becoming increasingly lop-sided, with RSS spokespersons now regularly accompanying their BJP pupils, and very few have even attempted to create a fine balance. A seismic shift to saffron voices is being encouraged in an adroit subterfuge.
Modi has, to his credit, not really tried to conceal his RSS credentials. After the BJP/NDA cabinet had made their Powerpoint presentations to their RSS bosses, Modi himself said that he was a proud proponent and practitioner of that ideology. If ever India needed official corroboration of BJP's unwavering commitment to Hindu Rashtra, this was it. Don't forget that the divisive Ghar Wapsi has its origination in Modi's famous "Hum Paanch, Hamare Pacchis", and today's beef politics took on a colourful communal hue with Modi's calculated mention of the "pink revolution". Does that now explain why Modi's silence is not at all intriguing?
The late U.R. Anantamurthy had sounded the early warning bells, but in the aftermath of the Modi hysteria that swept him to power in May 2014, he was mostly ignored by mainstream media. Many treated it as his personal, paranoid over-reaction to an overwhelming BJP majority. Of course, it all started with the tragic killing of a software professional in Pune; the famous "techie" case. The name: Mohsin Sheikh.
Ram Madhav, a prominent BJP spokesperson with RSS roots, had no hesitation in attacking Vice President Mr Hamid Ansari for missing the Yoga Day, insinuating a religious prejudice. Normally, a constitutional position being so flagrantly abused should have invited a public rebuke from India's highest political executive; but that did not happen.
Modi maybe falling woefully short on meeting the dizzying commercial expectations of Goldman Sachs and Moody's, but he is doing extraordinary well in creating a Hindutva infrastructure to the delight of his RSS commanders and over-zealous right-wing propagandists. He is scoring an A; for an A+, perhaps more will be required. One shudders to even contemplate that.
In Silicon Valley, Modi talks of internet broadband penetration; in India, he courts the sectarian, narrow-minded bigots. It is a breathtaking contrast. The headlines changed, from the multi-billionaire start-up tech wizard Mark Zuckerberg to a Mohammad Akhlaq, who till last Monday nobody had even heard of. Or would have. Until fellow Indians pounced upon their own.