The incident of three men being lynched to death in early morning of 16 April 2020, Gadchinchle village of Palghar district in Maharashtra, was one that was used widely for communal propaganda. The three killed in the attack by the villagers were members of the saintly group Juna Akhada named Chikni Mahararj Kalpavyakshagiri (70), Sushilgiri Mahararaj (30) and their driver Nilesh Telgade (30). The sadhus were on the way from Mumbai to Surat for participating in the funeral of their guru Mahand Ramagiri. Due to lockdown, they took a detour from the highway and were travelling through a byway passing the village where the attack happened.
The village had already seen warning messages floating that child kidnappers were active in that area and caution should be used; the messages also said that the kidnappers would appear in disguise as sanyasis and dressed like forest guards. The villagers who saw strangers at an odd hour, had suspicions on seeing them, mobilised people via a Whatsapp message and unleashed attack on them. The policemen who arrived to stop the attack also got injured. The assailants were not prepared to spare even the 70-year old saint who begged for his life. Altogether that was a tragic incident.
The incident stirred controversy after two days when the video images of the attack spread through social media. More than the anguish over innocent saints having been attacked, what gave it a trouble value was the machinations by Hindutva groups about how it could be used to make communal capital out of it. It took no time for the cyber warriors of BJP-RSS-controlled social media to pull the plug of the message for a country-wide circulation. The explosive videos were splashed with the footnote that a Mulsim mob was attacking Hindu sanyasis. It was not only RSS's Whatsapp universities, but even 'mainstram' television channels of north India who took up the topic for sensational impact. The poster-boy of India's Hindutva brigade, editor of Republic TV Arnab Goswamy's stances were the most bizarre of the lot. He led a channel debate on 21 April solely based on the notion that Muslims were behind the Palghar incident. The TV anchor who clumsily filled the TV screen with communal screams, also used the slot to shout at independent mediapersons, human rights activists, writers and artists. In the process he also blamed Congress president Sonia Gandhi to his heart's full. It was not only the sangh parivar mob, but BJP's responsible leaders also became part of this nefarious propaganda. Former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and others played as much role as they could in spreading hatred. In Kerala, a black day was observed under the auspices of Hindu Aikyavedi. The Hindutva parivar as a whole were exhilarating as if they had struck a treasure.
When the event became controversial, Maharashtra's home ministry took care to intervene with diligence, arrested 128 people connected with the incident and home mionister Anil Deshmukh himself shared details of the arrest with mediapersons on 22 April. An unusual development was that he released the names of all the 128 arrested, apparently intended to convince all that there was not a single Muslim among them.
We have reason to write now again about Palghar. On Wednesday, the special investigation team headed by Maharashtra ADGP filed a detailed charge sheet of the case before Dahanu court. The 11,000-page charge sheet contains a narration of the unfortunate incident of 16 April to its minutest detail. Conforming to all the professional norms of police, it draws a true picture of that eventul night. The team led by Kulkarni has laid bare the facts and entirely rejects all the false propaganda unleased by the sangh parivar ostensibly in reaction to the life of the saints.
The Palghar incident again underlines the sangh parivar penchant to use any incident under the sky for hate mongering. It is also a fact that if media persons and police do their job with due regard for their professional values, such hate campaign can be defeated. The news value which the Palghar incident received in the initial days should not be denied to the charge sheet about that incident. It is important to keep talking about this charge-sheet and the facts it contains. Those who run fake propaganda factories will come out with virus of fake stories each day. Even then, we need to keep informing people what the facts of the earlier propaganda were.