Seduced by hate, Indian politician embraces a lynch mob

by Jeffrey Gettleman and Hari Kumar

A political poster in Hazaribagh, India, featuring an image of Jayant Sinha, a government minister who draped garlands on eight men convicted of beating a Muslim man to death. PHOTO/Saurabh Das/The New York Times

Jayant Sinha is a Celtics fan. He graduated from Harvard. He worked for McKinsey.

Born and raised in India but minted in the United States, he found wealth and success in the Boston area. His American friends say his politics were moderate, maybe even progressive.

Then he returned to India.

He ditched the suits he had worn as a partner at McKinsey & Company, an elite management consulting firm, in favor of traditional Indian kurtas. He joined the governing Hindu right political party and became a member of Parliament and then a minister, leading Hindu parades and showering worshipers with flower petals from a helicopter.

This month, he also feted and garlanded eight men who were part of a Hindu lynch mob that the authorities said beat an unarmed and terrified Muslim man to death. His embrace of the attackers, who were convicted of murder, has become the political stunt that Indians can’t stop talking about.

Across the country, the images of Mr. Sinha draping wreaths of marigolds around the men’s necks have started a conversation about whether the state of Indian politics has become so poisoned by sectarian hatred and extremism that even an ostensibly worldly and successful politician can’t resist its pull.

It has become the year of the lynch mob in India. Dozens of people have been beaten to death, often in cold blood, by crowds of bored young men who alternate between booting someone in the head and taking a selfie. Suggestions of whom to kill rip so fast through villages via social media, especially WhatsApp, that no one seems able to stop them.

In this atmosphere, some conclude that Mr. Sinha might actually win votes for his maneuver.

“He’ll get some benefit,” said Rajiv Kumar, a homeopathic medicine salesman and one of Mr. Sinha’s constituents. “I don’t agree with what he did; it’s only going to encourage more lynching. But Jayant was concerned his party would dump him, and this will help.”

Mr. Sinha says he now feels horrible about garlanding the convicts.

“In a highly polarized environment, this became a spark and I regret giving the spark,” he said in an interview. “I wouldn’t do it again.”

For decades, a center-leftist political organization, the Indian National Congress, dominated politics.

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