Will Rajasthan’s Lynchings Be Vasundhara Raje’s Undoing?


Will Rajasthan’s Lynchings Be Vasundhara Raje’s Undoing?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

“Secular” might have become a bad word today, but there’s no denying that it’s a prominent part of the Preamble to the Indian Constitution, which should be regarded as scripture by politicians. Yet in Rajasthan, the government has repeatedly displayed reluctance to uphold this core principle of democracy, which counts as a black mark against its tenure in general. For that alone, the Rajasthani voter, should stick to the trend it has set in the last 20 years – alternating the government every election.

And if the pre-poll surveys are to be believed, things will not be very different this year either. Vasundhara Raje’s BJP is expected to be knocked out and Rahul Gandhi’s smile is expected to become wider.

I, for one, hope that the pre-poll surveys do not disappoint. After all the Raje government has failed to generate enough employment, has given in to goons who were ready to chop off Deepika Padukone’s nose for a fictional character from a 16th-Century poem, and done little about the agrarian crisis in the state. But more than that, the government had made “secularism” as irrelevant as Lal Krishna Advani is to the BJP today. Since 2017, how the government machinery in Rajasthan has dealt with widely condemned and well-documented crimes committed against minorities is an example of how a toxic ideology can infiltrate into institutions meant to safeguard public lives.

It all started on April 1, 2017 when Pehlu Khan, a 55-year-old dairy farmer from Haryana, was beaten by self-proclaimed gau rakshaks on a busy highway in Alwar district on suspicion of smuggling cows. He succumbed to his injuries two days later.

But it almost took a month after the lynching of Pehlu Khan for CM Raje to condemn the incident. In fact, four months later she would go on to write an op-ed in the TOI, distancing her party and government from mob violence. “While every unnatural death is a tragedy that should be prevented, it is a painful reality that violence and human nature sometimes go together,” she wrote. That sounds almost like a justification not a condemnation.

In Rajasthan, Muslim hate has become the new normal over the past few years.

Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

And as if taking cue from the CM, in September 2017, the Rajasthan police decided to drop all charges against the six accused named by Pehlu Khan before his death in the case for lack of evidence. To make matters worse, this January, the Rajasthan police charged two of Pehlu Khan’s companions with cow smuggling. And yet Vasundhara Raje does not feel that the priorities of her police force are misplaced at all. The witnesses in the case, which include Pehlu Khan’s two sons, were allegedly shot at in September 2018 while on their way to a court to depose in the case. The Rajasthan police was still not convinced.

Pehlu Khan isn’t an isolated case. In Rajasthan, Muslim hate has become the new normal over the past few years. Labourer Mohammad Afrazul was hacked to death by Shambhu Lal Regar in Rajsamand district in December 2017, who accused him of “love jihad”. His body was then burnt and the entire brutality was filmed and uploaded online. As a token gesture, the Rajasthan government handed over ₹5 lakh to Afrazul’s kin.

In solidarity with Shambhu Lal Regar, right-wing activists clashed with the police outside a court in Udaipur and one of the men climbed atop the building and unfurled a saffron flag. Vasundhara Raje did not feel such an event deserved a condemnation either. And in a huge breach of security, Regar would go on to make a video from inside the premises of the Jodhpur Central Jail, in which he claimed that he had absolutely no regret for his actions. And even though he is behind bars, he is likely to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Agra.

Both incidents had been widely covered by the media and criticised by the public. But despite the backlash, the government did not do enough to quell the rising tide of hate against minorities and sensitise the police force.

And even though he is behind bars, he is likely to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Agra.

The results of this apathy were seen yet again in the police’s response after a mob of gau rakshaks lynched 28-year-old Akbar Khan in July. It was an eerie reminder of Pehlu Khan’s killing. In the case of Akbar, the police’s alleged delay in transporting him to a medical centre may have been the final nail in his coffin. Police constables involved were suspended for the delay and life in the state went on as usual.  

In the last four years, Rajasthan has hit headlines only for mob lynchings and hate crimes. And each time Raje has been confronted her response has been to evade the issue. “It happens all over the world, that’s not something happening in Rajasthan alone… it is very difficult because if at 12 o’clock in the night in some remote part of Rajasthan something like this happens, I would have to be rather much than god to know exactly what is really happening,” the CM told reporters.

She then blamed the lynchings on joblessness. “People are frustrated that they are not being able to get jobs. There is frustration which is spreading across communities and people.”

Ironically, it’s this rising unemployment that might lead to Raje’s downfall in the state. Jobs have become a major poll plank in the state after four youths from Alwar formed a suicide pact and jumped in front a running train last month.  

The truth is, be it efforts to curb lynchings or provide jobs, the Rajasthan government has failed miserably. Will the state’s voters penalise Raje for it?