Why a Bihar cop’s lynching figured in Modi’s Bengal campaign speech

SHO Ashwini Kumar was killed in neighbouring Bengal during a raid to catch a theft suspect.

ByAnand Vardhan
Why a Bihar cop’s lynching figured in Modi’s Bengal campaign speech
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On April 12, newspapers published from Patna carried a photograph of a pair of funeral pyres. Urmila Devi, 70, had died of a heart attack after hearing about her son’s mob lynching. Her son, Ashwini Kumar, station house officer of Kishanganj town in Bihar, was lynched by a mob at Pantapara village in Bengal’s North Dinajpur, where he was leading a police team in pursuit of a man suspected of motorbike theft. They were cremated together at their Panchu Mandal Tola village in Purnea.

The SHO’s lynching in the neighbouring state has been a major story in Bihar since the weekend, and has been reported in sections of the national media as well. It’s now known that he was out chasing a key suspect in a theft case in the wee hours of April 10. As he and his team of seven policemen reached Pantapara, only about 12 km from Kishanganj, they were surrounded by a group of villagers. There was a heated argument that allegedly quickly turned into an assault with sticks and stones on the policemen. The Times of India quoted Kishanganj’s police chief, Kumar Ashish, as claiming the public address system of a mosque was used to instigate the people.

Speaking with News18 Bihar, Javed Ansari, sub-divisional police officer of Kishanganj, confirmed that the FIR noted the use of the mosque’s loudspeaker to mobilise the mob by spreading rumours that thieves had entered the village.

His team fled, but the SHO was brutally beaten up. He was declared brought dead at the Islampur civil hospital. The police later booked over 500 villagers and arrested three men suspected of mobilising the mob – Firoz Alam, the main theft suspect, his brother Abuzar Alam, and their mother Sahinoor Khatoon. They have since also detained a villager named Mohammad Israel and his son Mohammad Abdul for instigating the mob from the mosque loudspeaker.

The Bihar police, meanwhile, suspended the seven policemen who fled the spot instead of standing with their SHO, for dereliction of duty.

The police fraternity in Patna criticised the Bengal police for allegedly not cooperating with the Bihar policemen and not responding to the SHO’s call for help.

“There’s nothing called law and order or any governance in West Bengal,” the Bihar Police Association head Mrityunjay Singh was quoted as alleging in the daily Hindustan Times. “The inspector had followed all procedures and informed the concerned police station before reaching there for carrying out the raid. However, he got no support from the local police station while criminals managed counter-attack.”

Now, political parties are using the SHO’s tragic lynching to assail the dismal law and order situation in the Trinamool Congress-governed Bengal in the midst of the election there. The Bihar BJP posted a clip of Narendra Modi talking about the lynching at a campaign rally in the neighbouring state. The prime minister asked “whether the mother of that martyred SHO wasn’t like a mother to Mamata Banerjee”.

The lynching has spotlighted the fragile law and order situation in districts along Bihar’s Bengal border. The situation often takes on communal overtones because of the region’s demography – 67.98 percent of the population in Kishanganj and 49.92 percent in North Dinajpur is Muslim – as well as anxieties about infiltration from Bangladesh.

In recent months, the dangers faced by police’s raid teams have become increasingly apparent. In February this year, the SHO of Majorganj in Bihar’s Sitamarhi was killed by liquor smugglers. The same month, the crackdown on the liquor mafia in West Champaran and in Mokama invited attacks on the police during raids. Bihar’s police force has been voicing the need for more manpower and better equipment to deal with such situations. But the brutality of a mob lynching made the latest episode a cathartic moment for the outpouring of grief and anguish by those bearing the brunt in the line of duty, and those they leave behind.

The lynching of a police officer on duty is a most hideous revocation of the social contract. But in its shock and anguished reaction to it, a section of Bihar’s public has shown that it hasn’t yet lost sight of the grave dangers of such a breach.

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