The Union minister for aviation, Jayant Sinha, on Friday garlanded and hand-fed sweets to men convicted for murdering a Muslim meat trader after they were given bail by the Jharkhand High Court on June 29. The eight men were among 11 convicted in March for lynching Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh, Jharkhand, in June last year.
They were granted bail, the High Court said, “in view of the fact that from the evidence on record, it is only apparent that the appellants were the members of the mob, and in view of lack of evidence of specific assault against them...”
Their convictions for murder stand, pending an appeal. The high court’s order affirms that the men – with links to the Bharatiya Janata Party or other Sangh organisations – were present when Alimuddin Ansari was lynched to death in broad daylight.
In response to criticism of his actions, Sinha, the Member of Parliament from Hazaribagh, tweeted: “…irresponsible statements are being made about my actions when all that I am doing is honoring the due process of law. Those that are innocent will be spared and the guilty will be appropriately punished.”
It is Sinha who has, at the very minimum, been irresponsible. He honoured men convicted of murder with sweets and garlands and he described this as “honouring the due process of law”.
Sinha is not the first Modi government minister to fete murderers. That honour goes to his colleague Mahesh Sharma, who justified the 2015 lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri on the grounds that the lynch mob’s sentiments had been hurt. But Sinha’s actions are in line with the culture of his party in which politicians earn their political pips by defending the indefensible.
Sinha has repeatedly said that he stands for the rule of law and against vigilantism. Yet, through his actions and his words, he has firmly come out on the side of men convicted of murder, whom the High Court reaffirms were present at the site of a vigilante lynching.
Sinha’s justification for what he has done fits comfortably into the moral universe of the BJP, where there is no contradiction in claiming to defend the rule of law while celebrating those who upturn it. He told the news agency ANI, “They [the convicted men] came to see me after they got bail, I wished them well …” He says he is for the rule of law and against vigilantism, and yet he has good wishes for men who he knows attended a lynching.
Sinha’s self-image from all accounts is of a forward-looking, even liberal, politician. Many now criticising him for garlanding murder convicts clearly also saw him as a BJP man with a difference. The BJP is a party committed to majoritarianism and under Modi, it is a party for which orchestrated violence, especially against minorities, is an important organising principle. Sinha’s actions in defending convicted vigilantes has laid bare the fiction of a BJP man with a difference and underlined the fact that vigilante armies are a core constituent of the party mechanism.