BJP Minister Jayant Sinha Felicitates 'Gau Rakshaks' Convicted for Ramgarh Murder

The eight men were released on bail by the Jharkhand high court despite being sentenced to life in prison by a fast-track court in March this year.

New Delhi: In a gesture that was clearly intended to send a political message to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s core constituency in Jharkhand and the rest of India, Union minister Jayant Sinha in Friday felicitated eight men who were convicted for the brutal lynching of cattle trader Alimuddin Ansari on June 29 last year after they were released on bail this week.

Sinha is a BJP member of parliament from the Hazaribagh seat and the lynching took place in broad daylight in the Ramgarh area of Hazaribagh district. He has time and again taken the view that the 11 men convicted of the murder had been framed and were in fact innocent. In Jharkhand, his stand is seen as a sign of the ruling party’s backing for cow vigilantism and unruly mob behaviour.

In June last year, a mob had lynched Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh on the suspicion that he was carrying beef. He had reportedly been carrying about 200 kg of meat in his van when he was attacked. In videos of the assault that did the rounds on social media, the assailants were seen beating Ansari while his car was on fire in the background.

Though a fast-track court had convicted the 11 accused in the case – the first example of people being convicted in a case relating to violence in the name of cow protection – the Jharkhand high court granted them bail pending their appeal.

After the life sentences handed down to the eight men, including BJP functionary Nityanand Mahato, were suspended by the Jharkhand high court as part of the bail process, the first stop of eight convicts upon their release from Jai Prakash Narain Central Jail, was Sinha’s residence in Hazaribagh. The eight were reportedly taken there by local BJP leader Amardeep Yadav. They were garlanded there and posed for a celebratory photograph with Sinha.

Yadav had said that Sinha had also “provided legal and monetary assistance to them in his personal capacity”.

“There is nothing wrong in supporting innocent people,” he said.

In a series of tweets on Saturday after the photograph and video of his meeting with the eight convicts went viral, Sinha said he had only been “honouring the due process of law”:

In May, Sinha had called for an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the matter and said that the accused in the Ramgarh lynching case have not got “complete justice”.

The opposition has accused the minister and the BJP of stoking communal tensions with this photo-op. Former Jharkhand chief minister and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Hemant Soren told News18 that it was a very sensitive issue and what Sinha did was absolutely unbecoming of a Union minister. He even took a dig at his alma mater on Twitter:

Jharkhand state Congress chief Ajoy Kumar, while talking to News18, accused the BJP of fanning communal sentiments. “Any kind of support to such elements is deplorable. This is the true colour of the BJP. They just want to win the elections, and for that, their leaders can cross any limit,” he was quoted as saying.

Condemning the politics of hate, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury tweeted:

Reportedly, this was not the only event Sinha was a part of today. After meeting and garlanding the convicts, he apparently attended an event on the opposite end of the spectrum of hate, one which celebrated the Dalai Lama’s birthday.

The lynching of Alimuddin had made headlines again when in October 2017, a witness was unable to testify because his wife was killed in an accident outside the courtroom.

“Alimuddin’s brother Jalil Ansari, a witness in the murder case, had come to depose before the court on Thursday. He had forgotten his identity proof, so he asked his wife Julekha, aged around 50, and Alimuddin’s son Shahzad Ansari (22) to go home and get it. The accident occurred while they were on their way. The police said that an unidentified bike hit the victim’s bike,” the Indian Express had reported.