New Poster Boy of Hindutva?

By garlanding six men convicted for killing in the name of cow protection, Sinha seems to have completed his transition from venture capitalist to a seasoned politician

By DANFES

A picture can sometimes be the defining image of a momentous event. Remember the photograph of tailor Qutubuddin Ansari in his bloodstained shirt, with folded hands and terrorised face, begging for help? It was the most iconic image from the 2002 Gujarat riots, one that editors across the world reach for when they need a powerful visual of the time.

Trust these editors to look for another such image every time they have a story on mob lynching in India – that of union minister Jayant Sinha posing with six garlanded men out on bail after being convicted for killing a meat trader in Jharkhand in the name of cow protection.

Sinha would be the last politician to come to mind if you thought of political patrons of cow vigilantes. His profile just didn’t fit in: A 55-year-old alumnus of IIT Delhi, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Harvard Business School; a venture capitalist, management consultant and hedge fund manager. He lived in Philadelphia and Boston for 20 years before returning to India to pursue a career in politics. Son of former finance minister Yashwant Sinha and the MP from his father’s seat Hazaribagh, he impressed many in the government too – first, as finance minister Arun Jaitley’s deputy, and then as minister of state for civil aviation.

So, why on earth would he garland and offer sweets to cow vigilantes and even pose for pictures with them?

ACTING AT SOMEONE’S BEHEST

Conspiracy theories abound. Those familiar with the Sinha family aver that the minister is “definitely not this type”. “Last time, when he wrote an article to counter his father’s criticism of the government, he had been asked to do so,” confided a family friend, in a conspiratorial tone.

The insinuation about Sinha acting at someone’s behest sounds a bit rich. He was unapologetic as he took to Twitter Saturday to justify his action. He said he was “honouring the due process of law”. He condemned violence and rejected vigilantism but added in the same breath that he had “misgivings” about the fast-track court verdict sentencing each accused to life imprisonment.

It is one thing to have misgivings about a court ruling and completely another to felicitate those accused of killing a person.

OUT OF FATHER’S SHADOW

This action will certainly endear Sinha to Hindutva proponents, who may have been apprehensive of his foreign education and outlook. See the rise of Giriraj Singh, a rabble rouser who wanted Narendra Modi’s critics to go to Pakistan. His remark might have upset the liberal intelligentsia, but it secured him a ministerial berth after the elections. He was later promoted and given independent charge of a ministry.

Last February, he called Muslims in India descendants of Ram, sparking off another controversy. Singh met the families of Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists who were arrested last week for inviting communal tension. He had met those activists in jail the previous day. Singh is obviously doing what he knows best to get another promotion.

Sanjeev Balyan, named in the Muzaffarnagar riots case ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, was appointed a union minister of state and served for over three years.

Another minister of state, Anant Kumar Hegde, has gained a lot of political heft since he described secularists as “people without parentage” in December last year.

Therefore, Sinha may not be bothered about the opposition parties’ outrage over his controversial action. If anything, it may benefit him in his constituency too, since one of the convicts garlanded by him was a BJP leader, and the local party unit is also standing by Sinha.

In one stroke, Jayant Sinha has completed his transition from a venture capitalist to an adventurous politician. He is no longer dependent on his father’s political legacy.

SERIOUS POSSIBILITIES

Sinha’s sympathy for cow vigilantes highlights some other possibilities.

Disregarding the PM: It looks like BJP MPs and ministers don’t take Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public utterances on certain issues as seriously as the common man does. Why else should Jayant Sinha, who has taken on his father to defend the Modi government, disregard the PM’s stated views? Modi had denounced cow vigilantes, saying that most of them were anti-social elements masquerading as gau rakshaks.

No faith in development: It is possible that these leaders take the Prime Minister’s words seriously, but have been advised to be mindful of political imperatives. That’s probably why they are doing the groundwork, preparing to unveil the Hindutva agenda in the next Lok Sabha elections. But if that were the case, it would suggest a lack of confidence in Modi’s development narrative.

Jayant Sinha’s camaraderie with gau rakshaks has raised many such possibilities and questions. But the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind (with apologies to Bob Dylan).