The Supreme Court observation that mob lynching is a crime, no matter what the motive, and that it is a law and order issue that is the responsibility of state governments vindicates our stand on the issue. We had argued that lynching incidents, which are occurring with menacing frequency, amount to a break down of law and order and the state governments simply cannot wash their hands of them. Our consistent stand was that those in charge of maintaining public order must squarely face the blame for the aberration. The excuse that members of the mob cannot be identified is most untenable. There are court-sanctioned procedures under which parties and designated officials are held responsible in cases of mobs causing damage to public property and the same principle must be applied to lynching and other crimes by frenzied mobs because these essentially stem from a failure to enforce public order.
The apex court has said that, whether a lynching happens as a result of cow vigilantism, or because people believe someone is a child abductor, it does not matter lynching is a crime. Period. While reserving its verdict on petitions seeking directions to formulate guidelines to curb such violence, the court said the onus to check such incidents as cow vigilantism was on the states as no one could be allowed to take the law into their own hands. Instances of vigilantism were acts of mob violence, which was a crime, the court said. It also expressed the resolve to issue guidelines to the Centre, as well as to the states, on how to deal with this abhorrent phenomenon.
Although it may be interpreted as an attempt to pass the buck, the Centre’s submission that it was a law and order issue deserves credit. Given that most of the lynching incidents have occurred in states ruled by the party in charge at the Centre, the BJP will still be at the receiving end of the criticism, but the act of recognising it as a law and order problem separates the approach from the cause of saffron elements that the party is known to sympathise with.
In fact, the Supreme Court has asked the governments of Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh why contempt of court action should not be taken against them for their failure to honour the court’s earlier order to take stern steps to stop violence in the name of cow vigilantism. Last year, the apex court had asked all the states to take stern measures to stop violence in the name of cow protection and appoint senior police officers as nodal officers in every district. Once appointed, these officials can be held directly responsible for any violations as their new role enjoins on them the duty of maintaining law and order.