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Criminals, not ‘misunderstanding,’ lynched Palghar victims

Criminals, not ‘misunderstanding,’ lynched Palghar victims

How many of us still remember Gagandeep Singh? The lanky Uttarakhand police officer who saved a young man from being mob lynched in May, 2018. The brave act turned Singh into a 'celebrity cop' overnight. Accolades and medals followed.

Almost two years later, on the night of April 16, two sadhus (seers) of Juna Akhara and their driver, going from the state of Maharashtra to Gujarat to attend a funeral, faced a similar situation.

Dragged out of their vehicle by a bloodthirsty mob of a few hundred people — who allegedly took them as child lifters — in Palghar, the three men cried desperately for help. But assistant police inspector Anand Rao Kale and sub-inspector Sudhir Katare were no Gagandeep Singh.

Swami Kalpvraksha Giri (70), Swami Sushil Giri (35) and driver Nilesh Telgade (30) were mercilessly beaten to death, allegedly in the presence of police personnel.

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The gruesome murders wouldn't have been reported had the video clips capturing the heinous act, and police's shocking presence at the crime spot as it happened, not gone viral on social media.

Locked down in their homes currently, people have been left shell-shocked, angry as the video of the killings played on Indian news channels and social media apps.

The cops have been suspended and the usual investigations launched by the authorities. But will the naive Maharashtra government be allowed to get away with just a mild reprimand once again?

Lynchings happening in this era and times, that too in front of the police officers, is unpardonable.

From botching up Covid-19 preparedness (Maharashtra remains the worst affected in the country with nearly 5,000 cases) to giving special treatment to the rich and famous businessmen by allowing them to travel in the times of countrywide lockdown to the ghastly killings of sadhus, it seems that the state government is struggling badly to perform its duties.

BJP vice president Uma Bharti said Maharashtra Chief Minister Udhhav Thackeray would be "part of the act" if he fails to bring the perpetrators including the erring police personnel to book.

"You are the son of a great father… Bringing the perpetrators to book will be your atonement," she wrote in a letter to Thackeray today.

"Those police personnel are also accused of murder. They too should be booked under IPC 302. Had they wanted, they could have save the lives of the sadhus by firing in the air," the firebrand leader said in a strongly worded statement.

The anger of sadhus is growing too with some powerful akhara leaders saying they'll retaliate post-lockdown.

"The brutal killing of Juna Akhara Sadhus in Palghar is shocking and highly condemnable. Strict action must be taken to address this inhuman act of violence," said Swami Avdheshanand of Juna Akhara in a tweet.

Meanwhile, the state government is trying to get its act together. While the CM warned anyone trying to give the Palghar killings a communal angle, NCP chief Sharad Pawar said the incident happened "due to misunderstanding."

“Whatever happened was unfortunate and should not have happened. It is condemnable. It happened due to misunderstanding. The state government and police acted swiftly. Over 100 people found involved in the primary investigation were arrested and put behind bars the very next day. But a picture is being created that Maharashtra’s law and order is in a bad shape and resignations are being demanded over an isolated incident. I personally feel political struggle and whatever games have to be settled can be done at a proper time, but this is not the right time for all this,” said the veteran leader.

One hopes that all the blame is not heaped on something as abstract as ‘misunderstanding’ and the guilty are brought to book..