The Palghar killing of two sadhus and their driver is yet another reminder of the violence latent in society, just waiting to be released given a seemingly legitimate cause. That otherwise ‘ordinary’ people can turn into a mob of killers, particularly against a soft target, surprises many, but it has a long established pattern. Almost all individuals carry within an unexpressed anger because of their frustrations with life and resentment against what they perceive to be injustices inflicted upon them. Given the opportunity, they vent it on some easy target if they believe they can get away with it. Traditionally, being part of a mob has provided them the necessary anonymity to do so (which the ubiquitous camera phone has now almost entirely destroyed). It is also a fact that there are those who have expertise in tapping into this resentment and directing it against individuals or sections of society for their own purposes. On the ground it is the rabble rouser, but standing behind is a hierarchy of those pursuing vested interests. All those seeking power, even in the belief they are doing it for noble purposes, learn this craft of using the mob. Through history, the mob has been used to subvert the existing order.
It is the job of the state to ensure that punishing crime is its sole prerogative. It is a sign of a government’s authority if it successfully prevents other agencies – individual or collective – from usurping this power. If it fails in this, it cannot retain the power for long, no longer how legitimately it has been obtained. This requires properly formulated laws, a capable police force and an impartial as well as effective judicial system. Failure to deliver at any of these levels leads to loss of innocent lives. Also required, at another level, is a way of life that understands, prevents and heals the psychological conditions that make violence a catharsis for inner frustration. The killing by a lone gunman in Canada of 22 random individuals is a classic example of how a psychologically damaged person can take it out on others who might not even be directly related to his or her grievances.
In the Palghar case, the tragedy is magnified by the fact that the forces of the state arrived in time at the spot but did not have the wherewithal to prevent the ‘lynching’. It is not just the individual cop who could not rise above and beyond the call of duty to save the victims; it is also the system that denies him the capability that is to blame. With its impotence thus revealed, how long can the Uddhav Thackeray Government now hope to survive in Maharashtra?