As you read through Tarun Vijay’s Death In Dadri, published in the October 2 issue of the Indian Express,  discomfort segues into panic and, then, deep depression. Death In Dadri reads like an epitaph to our moral universe, as we knew it until yesterday. It is befitting that Vijay’s commentary should have appeared on the day Mahatma Gandhi was born – after all, he had in many ways crafted the principles of modern India’s moral universe, all of which were undermined in Dadri town, next door to Delhi, on Monday, when a mob killed a Muslim man, acting on a rumour that he had killed a calf and stocked the meat in his fridge.

Vijay is no ordinary intellectual in the stable of the Hindu Right. For over 20 years, he edited the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's weekly, Panchajanya. He is now a member of the Rajya Sabha and of the party’s national executive. He is also the battering ram of the Bharatiya Janata Party, often pitched into TV studios to battle anyone who questions the party or its Hindutva philosophy. He provides intellectual ammunition to the followers of the Sangh; an ideological justification for their emotions and actions.

In his op-ed, there's no doubt that Vijay expresses dismay at the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq. But his dismay seems to arise from the mob having mistakenly picked a wrong man to vent its fury on.

The wrong reasons

In the opening paragraph of Death In Dadri, he commends the daughter of Mohammad Akhlaq for seeing the “bigger picture”. And pray, what is this bigger picture? It is her refusal, says Vijay, to “dissolve this incident [Dadri] into the bigger issue and make it political”. The bigger picture, therefore, pertains to her seeing the lynching of her father as a personal tragedy, as an accident.

His lynching was an accident because Akhlaq and his family hadn’t consumed beef. It is this fact the daughter did not lose sight of amidst her grieving, prompting Vijay to hail her as the most mature of all those who wish to turn the grisly Dadri incident political. Vijay writes: “She has been asking us: Can her father be brought back if proved innocent?”

Through this question, Vijay is re-defining the idea of innocence and guilt. Akhlaq is innocent because the meat stocked in the refrigerator of his house wasn’t beef.  But he would have been guilty – and presumably deserving of being lynched – had he partaken of the beef. It does not concern Vijay that the mere possession of beef isn’t illegal in Uttar Pradesh.

He commends Akhlaq's daughter because she subscribes to the “big picture” – that Hindus are entitled to feel outraged and resort to violence against a person guilty of eating beef. Of course, Vijay doesn’t say this explicitly. Instead, he writes: “Lynching a person merely on suspicion is absolutely wrong, the antithesis of all that India stands for and all that Hinduism preaches.” From this, it's easy to conclude that Vijay believes that lynching a person would be justified it it were proved that he had eaten beef. Vijay's choice of words tantalisingly leaves the interpretation to the readers.

The big picture

Ironically, it is Vijay who seems unable to perceive Dadri outside the political framework, to condemn it for its barbarity. Akhlaq's killing makes him wonder where the secular media and leaders were when Tika Lal Taploo was killed by jihadis and his daughter was left alone in this world. The secular brand of communalism is more lethal sometimes than the bullets of violent people.”

Vijay doesn’t tell us who Taploo was. That you might not know him indicts you. It tacitly suggests you have no reason to condemn Akhlaq's killing, or, alternatively, that your condemnation is hypocritical because you cannot recall the deaths similar to his. For all those who don’t know, Taploo was a Kashmiri Pandit leader and a BJP vice-president whom the terrorists gunned down in Srinagar in 1989.

It is for Vijay to tell us why among the many "unjust killings" over the years he has chosen to refer to Taploo’s. Perhaps he knows that Indians are bound to recoil at the horrific image of a Muslim family being targetted in a village overwhelmingly Hindu. Not only was his lynching unjust, it also renders the failure of his neighbours to spring to his protection morally reprehensible. In reminding the readers about Taploo and his tragic death, Vijay is telling them that deaths similar to that of Akhlaq have also occurred in areas where the Hindus are a minority, where terrorists have gunned down Hindus without Muslims coming to their rescue.

After establishing a moral equivalence between the deaths of Akhlaq and Taploo, Vijay goes on to ask the “so-called liberal Muslims”: “Have you done anything to show Hindus that you stand with them when they are assaulted by the Andrabis? Muslim silence on Hindu woes is often taken as support for intolerant Islamists.” The intolerance of Hindus in the Dadri village is consequently justified, portrayed as commonplace in India, even a tit-for-tat reaction.

Bringing in Kashmir

What Vijay is also telling his readers is that Muslims outside Kashmir support the secessionist movement there, evident from their silence over the killing of Hindus in years past. Not for him the indisputable fact that Kashmiri terrorists have gunned down an infinitely larger number of Muslims than Hindus.

He must assume that all Muslims in Kashmir and outside it are united by the bonds of religion. Had this indeed been the case, we would have had the Muslims from the Hindi heartland joining the terror gangs in the Valley. Vijay insinuates Kashmir into the discourse on Dadri because he seems to have run out of reasons to explain the Hindu outrage in Dadri – after all, even the much-maligned ulema have issued innumerable fatwas condemning terrorism.

Acutely conscious that his party would be accused of triggering social tension on the cow-slaughter issue, Vijay tries to blame the Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh for fraying governance. This has become a standard operating procedure of the Hindutva forces. Come an election, they raise divisive communal issues. An outbreak of violence is then blamed on the state government’s inability to govern.

From this perspective, it isn’t the BJP’s responsibility to ensure social harmony as long as the party is out of power. This has been indeed the theme underlying its programmes such as love jihad, ghar wapsi and cow slaughter, executed with a clinical fury in the states where non-BJP parties are in power. It is they who are to be blamed for the social tensions in India.

Addressing the wrong party

Vijay says this as much: “Should we allow emotive religious issues, matters that concern our personal beliefs to derail what we have achieved through pain-staking struggle? The UP government should take serious note of this.” In fact, it is not the UP government but his party to which Vijay should address his plea.

He doesn’t want the “emotive religious issue” to be raised not because of the threat this would pose to the country’s social fabric or the fact that it could lead to the spilling of blood. Instead, Vijay doesn’t want these issues to be raised because it could derail what has been achieved through “pain-staking struggle.”

What has the country achieved? The answer, according to Vijay, is that India has now embarked on the “path to rediscovering itself through an all-inclusive development missions…. This is because of the buzz that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has created the world over.” He goes on to elaborate, “The Modi phenomenon has taken the world by surprise. The world is looking at India with awe and appreciation like never before.” Emotive religious issues could derail India, he suggests.

When a killing is argued against not because it is immoral, but because it could adversely affect development, we must lament the collapse of our moral universe. Tarun Vijay's Death in Dadri marks the death of the moral Indian.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist from Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, published by HarperCollins, is available in bookstores.