On 19 July, Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, caused a stir in the upper house. Azad said thatthe recent spate of lynchings in the country was “not religious,” but was the “[Sangh] Parivar’s battle against everybody.” “In all the cases of lynching now, someone or the other belonging to the ruling party and the Sangh Parivar is involved,” Azad said. He further alleged that “there was an understanding” between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the central government, to allow such lynchings to continue.
Azad’s comments were made at the beginning of a discussion that continued in the house for two days. Arun Jaitley, the finance minister, said that it was unfair to characterise the lynchings with political colour. “Violence cannot be a partisan issue,” Jaitley asserted. All the perpetrators of such crimes are in jail, he claimed. “They will be prosecuted and serve their punishments.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi too, recently disavowed lynchings in the name of cow-protection. On 29 June, in an address delivered at the Gandhi ashram in Sabarmati in Gujarat, Modi said: “Killing people in the name of gaubhakti”—cow-devotion—“is not acceptable. This is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve of.” However, the prime minister added, “No one spoke about protecting cows more than Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave. Yes. It should be done.”
The same day that Modi delivered the address, Bazar Tand, a market area with general stores, stationery shops, tea stalls, and vegetable sellers, located in Ramagarh in Jharkhand, witnessed the brutal murder of Alimuddin Ansari. A group of men lynched Ansari, who was in his 40s, for transporting cow meat in his car. As in other cases similar to his, Ansari’s killing was filmed, and the video was later circulated widely across social media. “Someone [who could be heard on the video] was saying, ‘make the video properly—his face should be visible,’” Shama Praveen, Ansari’s daughter, said. “Woh daya ki bheek maang rahe the, unke samne kam se kam 50-100 public hain, lekin sabki insaniyat mar chuki thi”—my father was begging for mercy, and there were at least 50–100 people in front of him, but their humanity had died.
A close look at Ansari’s death and the investigation that followed shows that despite the government’s assertions, there is little reason to believe that violence in the name of cow-protection will come to an end. Though the police investigation in the case appears to have made progress in terms of arrests, police officials are reluctant to investigate the Hindu right-wing groups active in the region, despite indications of their involvement. The central government’s response and directives are ambivalent—as illustrated by Modi and Jaitley’s statements, it is unwilling to lay the blame on any political ideology.