India's Union Minister Jayant Sinha delivers a speech at the 21st International  Conference of The Future of Asia at a hotel in Tokyo on May 22, 2015. Photo: AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi
India's Union Minister Jayant Sinha delivers a speech at the 21st International Conference of The Future of Asia at a hotel in Tokyo on May 22, 2015. Photo: AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi

Former members of the Indian Army, who have long remained apolitical, have condemned a minister from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who gave a warm welcome at his residence to eight men out on bail after being convicted of murder.

Claiming the constitution had been weakened, up to 51 army veterans said they were disgusted by Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha’s act of presenting garlands to the eight men. The veterans described the minister’s act towards the men “as though they were some revolutionaries in a freedom struggle.”

Sinha had earlier been condemned by a group of civil servants, opposition parties, the alumni of Harvard University where he studied and his father Yashwant Sinha, a senior politician.

The eight men were convicted in the killing of coal trader Alimuddin Khan in Ramgarh, Jharkhand, last year in a case known as cow vigilantism – the man was suspected of transporting beef. A total of 11 accused in the case were found guilty and were given life terms. However, eight of the men appealed and were given bail by the Jharkhand High Court and then visited Sinha’s residence, where they received a warm welcome.

“Until a higher court finds them innocent, the individuals who Sinha feted are guilty of murdering a minority citizen for a motive directly linked with religion,” the statement by the military veterans said. “This was clearly a cynical political move by Sinha, of a pattern with numerous recent incidents involving members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.”

The statement also referred to a couple of recent cases of BJP  lawmakers playing a supporting role to people accused of crimes against minorities.

They mentioned the recent gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl from a Muslim nomadic tribe in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district. Two BJP ministers were at a mass rally supporting the accused. State legislator Rajiv Jasrotia was also included in the state’s cabinet after he showed support to the accused in the same case.

The veterans also referred to the brutal murder of a Muslim migrant worker in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand area. The murderer, Shambhulal Regar, was praised in WhatsApp groups, which had BJP MLAs and cadres as members.

“All such cases point to a violent, majoritarian mindset that seeks to telegraph the message that there is an unwritten license to kill minorities, and that those involved in such crimes will be supported – financially, legally and politically,” they said.

On Sunday, 50 former civil servants released a similar statement condemning Sinha’s actions and demanded the resignation or removal of the minister and an apology from the BJP to the people of India.

“Now that a Union Minister has openly questioned a criminal case where his own party government in the state, had admirably in our opinion, prosecuted and brought to justice the accused, we would like to know what stand the Government of India proposes to take?” senior members of India’s civil service asked.

Meanwhile, a petition filed by a Harvard University alumnae to withdraw Jayant Sinha’s alumni status from the university was signed by about 14,000 people and supported by opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

On Sunday, Sinha apologized after drawing flak from all quarters. “If by garlanding those men an impression has gone out that I support such vigilantism then I express regret over it,” he said, according to media reports.