Govt forms panel on mob lynchings amid political spat
The Centre constituted a Group of Ministers (GoM) on Monday to deal with rising incidents of mob lynching, even as a Rajasthan probe panel said there were lapses by the state police in taking an alleged cow smuggler to hospital after he was beaten up by vigilantes in Alwar, an incident that has triggered a political slugfest between the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
It also formed a high-level committee, headed by home secretary Rajiv Gauba, that will submit its recommendation to the GoM led by home minister Rajnath Singh, a government statement said. The GoM consists of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, road transport minister Nitin Gadkari, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and social justice and empowerment minister Thawar Chand Gehlot.
The announcements came a week after the Supreme Court asked the central government to enact a law to deal with incidents of lynching and mob violence.
The apex court said on Monday it will hear a contempt plea against the Rajasthan government for violating court directives in the Alwar case. The matter will be heard on August 20.
The panel headed by Gauba will have secretaries of the justice, legal affairs, legislative, and social justice and empowerment departments. It will submit its recommendations on tackling the issue of lynchings to the GoM within four weeks. The GoM will then submit its recommendations to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to the statement.
“There are legal issues as far as enacting a central legislation against mob violence but the committee will look into ways to have some kind of legal framework at the level of states or strengthening the existing provisions of criminal procedure code,” a home ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
The Centre has so far maintained that, as per the “constitutional” scheme, “police” and “public order” were state subjects and the state governments were empowered to enact and enforce laws to curb crime in their jurisdiction. However, as the Alwar lynching case triggered outrage, with Parliament in session, the government swiftly moved to set up the committee and the GoM.
On Monday morning, while Congress president Rahul Gandhi attacked Modi over the case, alleging that “hatred had replaced humanity in his brutal New India”, three Union ministers hit back, led by finance minister Piyush Goyal who accused Gandhi of being a “merchant of hate”.
Rakbar Khan, 28, died of his injuries after being attacked by a group of “cow vigilantes” in Alwar on Friday. The killing triggered tension in the area after reports said the police wasted crucial time in taking Khan to hospital. They also allegedly cared for the cows first, transporting them to a shelter much farther away. There were also allegations levelled by locals that it was the police that had beaten up Khan.
A high-level team formed by the Rajasthan Police found “error in judgement” by Ramgarh police in connection with the lynching. An assistant sub-inspector was suspended and three other police personnel were sent to the police lines, an official said. Three people have been arrested in connection with the killing and an Alwar court has remanded them in police custody till July 27.
The political war of words erupted after Gandhi, in a tweet, referred to a media report that said policemen in Alwar had taken three hours to take a dying victim of a lynch mob to a hospital, as they took a tea-break on the way.
“Policemen in #Alwar took 3 hrs to get a dying Rakbar Khan, the victim of a lynch mob, to a hospital just 6 KM away. Why? They took a tea-break enroute,” Gandhi tweeted. “This is Modi’s brutal ‘New India’ where humanity is replaced with hatred and people are crushed and left to die,” he added.
Gandhi’s attack on Modi sparked an angry response from ministers Piyush Goyal, Smriti Irani and Rajyavardhan Rathore. “Stop jumping with joy every time a crime happens, Mr Rahul Gandhi. The state has already assured strict and prompt action. You divide the society in every manner possible for electoral gains and then shed crocodile tears. Enough is enough. You are a MERCHANT OF HATE,” Goyal tweeted.
Soon after, Irani accused Gandhi of indulging in “vulture politics” and said not a single instance goes by where he doesn’t attempt to rupture social bonds for electoral gains.
Rathore echoed the views of his colleagues. “Mr Rahul Gandhi, STOP using a crime for political gains. The local police is already on the case. Justice will be served. Stop sowing seeds of hatred in society simply for a few votes,” he said.
The country has been hit by a spate of lynchings, with 23 people killed in the last two months after being accused of child kidnapping in viral messages circulated on WhatsApp.
The home ministry had issued an advisory on July 4, urging the states and union territories to take steps to prevent mob violence and lynchings as well as take stringent action as per the law against the culprits.
(With inputs from agencies)