In an unusual but unsurprising development this May, the Bajrang Dal and the police at Madhya Pradesh’s Seoni district admitted that they work in coordination. The admission came after police arrested a group of men reported to have links to the Hindutva outfit for lynching two tribal men on suspicion of cow slaughter. While trying to give a cloak of legality to the activities of Bajrang Dal workers, the admission is also indicative of how states ruled by Bharatiya Janata Party are reinventing the policing model. This reinvention appears to be moving towards a pattern seen under the Nazi rule in Germany—one which culminated with security forces taking directions from the brown-shirted paramilitary wing of Hitler’s party.
The two tribal-community members, Dhansai Invati and Sampatlal Vatti, died early on 3 May after around fifteen people to twenty people attacked them in Simaria village. Families of six of the accused have said that they were associated with the Bajrang Dal, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh offshoot and sister organisation of the ruling BJP, according to a report in the Indian Express. While the Bajrang Dal has not clearly admitted to its role in the incident, the publication also quoted its district coordinator in Seoni, Devender Sain, as saying, “Those two men should not have died. We are sorry about that.”
As the lynching touched off a major political row, the Bajrang Dal began a damage-control exercise and claimed to be working in coordination with the police, the report noted. “The men who are accused of being members of our unit handed over the two men to police,” Sain told the publication. “We coordinate with police on every cow protection raid giving them crucial tip-offs.” Sain’s assertion was confirmed by the superintendent of police in the district, Kumar Prateek, who revealed that he had repurposed a highway patrol unit meant to prevent highway robberies to focus on cattle smuggling. Prateek claimed “that roping in the vigilante outfits denies them the excuse that the administration is not checking cattle smuggling.” He told the Indian Express, “I am in touch with most of these outfit members … Per day we get one-two informer tip-offs.”
The revelation by the superintendent is telling of the physical setting in which policing has been taking place in BJP-ruled states. I came across a case with such a setting in July 2021 while reporting on a series for Article 14 on the misuse of sedition law in Uttar Pradesh, another BJP-ruled state. On 9 November 2018, Feroz Ahmad, an electrician with a small shop at Nautanwa in Maharajganj district, was arrested for sedition—a charge that the police had to drop two and a half months later.
I reported that when Ahmad was arrested and brought to the police station, the line between the force meant to preserve law and order and a Hindutva outfit—in this case Hindu Yuva Vahini, the state chief minister Adityanth’s personal army of Hindu communalists—was barely noticeable. “There were around twenty Hindu Yuva Vahini men in the police station when I was taken in. They started shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ the moment they saw me,” Ahmad told me later. “I was scared as I saw Narasingh Pandey telling policemen about the specific charges that would be used against me.” Pandey, the district president of the HYV, was the complainant in the case. Ahmad added, “I could clearly see matters slipping out of the hands of the policemen.”