May 05, 2017

India: Vigilante groups such as Hindu Yuva Vahini or gau rakshaks etc repeatedly assault, or even kill ignoring supposed calls for restraint

The Telegraph, May 5, 2017 Editorial

Wayward pupils

The master's voice appears to have fallen on deaf ears. The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, had recently taught his wards of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, among other things, the importance of decency. Days later, in a village in Bulandshahr, three members of the Vahini, which was founded by Mr Adityanath as a parliamentarian, allegedly lynched an elderly Muslim man after accusing him of helping another person, also Muslim, to 'abduct' a Hindu girl. The return of the Bharatiya Janata Party to Uttar Pradesh with a commanding mandate seems to have encouraged vigilante groups to repeatedly assault, or even kill, anyone they consider to have violated their 'laws'. A first information report has been lodged against six members of the HYV, but it may not be enough to dispel the latter's perceived sense of immunity from the law - the advantage of having a sympathetic dispensation at the helm. However, this perception of protection offers a partial explanation for its violent ways. Its members may have little to fear by way of corrective intervention: UP is one of the five states that is yet to reply to a plea on cow vigilantism in spite of a notice from the Supreme Court. But their violence does not feed on administrative failure alone. The seemingly polarizing rhetoric of the BJP - this manifests itself in the form of such orchestrated campaigns as gau raksha or, as was the case in Bulandshahr, love jihad - has acquired a menacing quality through the party's deft use of mixed messages. Elected representatives, be it the prime minister or the UP chief minister, make apparently persuasive noises to rein in outfits like the HYV. Yet the perpetrators seem to be getting an entirely different message.

That message, and the actions that follow, affect the image of the nation, too, although the ruling party professes to care deeply about that. In its periodic review, the human rights council of the United Nations is expected to question India on its record of protecting minority communities from intimidation. But then, India can always take refuge in its heroes. That is the virtue of mixed messages. The prime minister is now a rashtra rishi. Boys in a school in UP have even been instructed to sport Mr Adityanath's hair style. Could it be that international censure and sustained policy failures, say in Kashmir, have prompted this urge to foist icons on the nation?