Mob justice is a threat to the existence of democracy as it questions the very existence of the State as a whole.
The famous political theorist Hobbes wrote, “a society is guided by reason but some of the people behave like arrant wolves”. It is the responsibility of the government to control these “arrant wolves” so that only the rule of law prevails in the State. In lynching cases, the Modi government has failed to protect the lives of citizens and to ensure the rule of law. Administrative failure on the part of the Modi government to control mob violence forced the Supreme Court to ask Parliament to bring in a special legislation against lynching. Just two days after the Supreme Court appeal, the monstrous mob of cow vigilantes attacked another youth in Alwar and killed him. Since April, 2017, 46 persons have been lynched in our country and since the Modi government came to power, there has been 97 per cent increase in lynching cases. The facts speak for themselves. The government needs to pause, introspect and act as it is a déjà vu moment for the present day polity and the society. It is true that there is an absence of a codified law to deal with mob violence and lynching as such does not find mention in the Indian Penal Code. The Supreme Judgment to call for a special legislation may be understood in this context and it must be applauded. But, the larger question is can the Narendra Modi led BJP government be trusted to sincerely act on the judgment? The fact is lynching and other kinds of mob behaviour are the by-products of the ideology that the BJP represent and the socio-economic policies the Modi government is pursuing. The data available clearly incidents of lynching are higher in BJP ruled states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Jharkhand. Had the government enacted a law against lynching in 2014 or in 2015 and enforced it with sincerity, many precious lives and their families could have been saved.
In this political regime, Indian democracy is facing a challenge of conflict between the constitutional principles and the ideological commitment of the government. Glorification of the vigilante justice as being meted out to criminals is encouraging mob violence and lynching. If a union minister will felicitate and garland convicts of lynching and another union minister will meet riot accused persons, what message they are sending to the youth of India? Lynching is a conspiracy to neutralise the “popularity” of the Prime Minister is another shocker from Arjun Ram Meghwal. By denying and disowning a malady, the disease cannot be cured. By doing so, they are legitimising hate crimes and mob justice delivery system. Instead of putting a curb on the criminal behaviour, the prejudiced and primitive actions of the political leadership of BJP is encouraging them. The stoic silence of the Prime Minister is an endorsement of the action of these mobsters. If you have a patron, you can do anything: kill, steal and get away with it. Therefore, inaction and glorification of vigilantism is tantamount to its tacit approval. The consequences of such actions are bound to be destructive. This is certainly not the New India the youth of India strive for. The patron client relationship between the ruling leadership and the mobsters needs to be broken for the lynching to be stopped.
Mob justice is a threat to the existence of democracy as it questions the very existence of the State as a whole. In fact, lynching has never been about justice but about terror as a tool to enforce one’s own supremacy. Every incident of mob justice is not only a shocking indicator of the psychological mindset of a society but also a failed administrative mechanism. It is also a further evidence that public confidence in the law, order and justice systems is on the verge of collapse. The spate of lynching in recent times indicates that the public perception of justice delivery system is rapidly changing and changing for the worse. Consequently, a sense of anxiety and insecurity is setting in the society, thus, affecting harmony. Usurping the role of investigative and judicial agencies by mobs is a recipe for anarchy and must be resisted with.
Elimination of lynch justice and establishing the rule of law requires more than mere moral exhortation. Instead of wasting the precious time of Parliament on weakening transparency laws like the Right to Information Act, the government must immediately bring a strong legislation against lynching. The law enforcement agencies must effectively implement the legal tools without fear and favour. But, the first and the foremost, the government must be sincere to address the problem with a political will which is at present the primary lacking point. It should stop treating criminals and mobsters as vote banks, thus, allow the bureaucracy and the police to do their work, as per the law. A punitive legislation coupled with strict enforcement and speedy justice delivery system will definitely put an end to the increasing incidents of lynching. At the same time, the government must rethink its jobless economic policies. It has been observed that people who constitute mobs, attack and lynch another to death are often less educated and unemployed youth. Generation of adequate employment opportunities for the youth will engage them productively and there is less probability of their involvement in criminal activities. It is the constitutional duty of the government to protect the lives and livelihood of every citizen and the government must act now.
The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer and national media panellist of the Indian National Congress. The views expressed are personal.