The Bharatiya Janata Party-run government can’t be blamed for the lynchings across India. That seems to be the chief takeaway from the arguments offered by ruling party politicians during a discussion in the Lok Sabha on Monday. The Opposition had hoped to do better this time than it did last fortnight on its first attempt to question the government on allegations that the BJP seems to implicitly support lynch mobs mobilised under the pretence of cow protection.
The first time around, coming off the momentum that had been generated by the Not In My Name protests across the country, the Opposition put forward some strong questions, only to see it all friterred away when one member decided to talk about Hindu gods turning up on liquor bottle labels. Suddenly, lynching was no longer the headline. In fact, a BJP Member of Parliament even got away with saying the Hindu god reference was as bad as a lynching.
Monday’s discussion did not feature any evidently outrage-worthy comment but, coming as it did after the BJP had successfully elected its presidential candidate and engineered its way into government in Bihar, the discussion felt more like an afterthought. Some members did give strong speeches. But those too were overshadowed by a surprising set of events in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP was embarrassed because not enough members had turned up for a crucial vote.
While the Opposition may not have achieved much with the discussion, statements from BJP MPs offered a clear sense of the narrative that the government has either internalised or is seeking to peddle – one where it takes no responsiblity for the atmosphere of impunity that appears to be evident.
BJP MP Hukumdev Narayan Yadav, for example, said the gaurakshaks who ended up lynching people were intentionally doing so simply to defame the current government. He also broadened the definition of lynching quite considerably, asking why disputes over Hindu festival processions being refused access to certain public roads should not also be referred to as “lynching” – which he rhymed with finching several times in his statement.
But Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju’s reply at the end of the discussion laid out clearly how the government sees the matter. So clearly in fact that, rather than talking about those who had died in lynchings, he chose to make his final point a warning to the Opposition.
- First say it is the states’ problem
“Madam, I cannot imagine a situation where the Prime Minister or the Union Government should take over the state administration just because there is one incident,” Rijiju said in the Lok Sabha. “Is it possible? We are functioning under the provisions of the Constitution of India.”
- Say Opposition is raising this to defame Narendra Modi
“I had an apprehension that these people have brought up this matter simply for political purposes. They are not actually interested in it,” Rijiju said. “They have made this design to defame Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and they are trying to turn it into a national campaign against us.”
- Ask ‘what about...’?
“Have you not seen mob lynchings before? In West Bengal in 2014? After that in January in Maharashtra? ... From 2010 I can show you and the public all the details, and even before that you won’t be able to show your faces.”
- Insist Modi has given a statement. Is that not enough?
“This is a quote from Modi: ‘Some anti-social elements have incited violence in the name of cow protection. Those engaged in disturbing the harmony in the country are trying to take advantage of the situation. It has an impact on the image of the nation. The state governments must deal sternly against such anti-social elements’... Did your prime minister or your politicians ever speak up against these issues back then? “
- Argue that they are just looking for an excuse
“This disease of selective amnesia which is all over these days, because of that you keep finding something to attack us with? Before this you tried to create this sentiment of intolerance. But after the public gave its answer, that campaign ended. Then award wapsi happened. When all the award returnees were exposed, you started looking for yet another topic. Then you came to supporting those who insult the nation under the label of freedom of expression... Then when Delhi elections were coming up, the issue of church attacks was brought up... [and so on].”
- Insist that violence should not be attributed to one party
“All the negative things that happen in the country, we should condemn it together. There is no question of party in this. If something wrong happens in the country, it is sad for everyone in the country. There should not be any party politics in this.”
- Claim Modiji is great. To attack him is to attack India.
“People are singing the praises of our prime minister across the world these days. A moment comes but rarely in time that a country gets a prime minister like this. Countries rarely get the opportunity to be as lucky as we are now. This is our time. When India’s name is shining in the eye of the globe, when people the world over respect our prime minister, at this moment to ruin the image of our prime minister, our government is as bad as ruining the image of our country. Don’t forget this.’
- Deliver a warning
“I am ending my comments with a warning... As many times as you raise issues like this, those many times we will expose you. Because every time these false matters you turn into issues, the BJP only becomes stronger... so it is not me who is warning you, I’m warning you on behalf of the people.”