Union minister of state for civil aviation Jayant Sinha found himself in the midst of a raging controversy over his felicitating eight men convicted in a lynching case. They are currently out on bail.

Opposition parties on Saturday condemned Sinha, who is the Hazaribag MP, for “honouring and garlanding” the eight men convicted of killing coal trader Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh in June last year in a case of alleged cow vigilantism. A fast-track court had found 11 people guilty in the case and sentenced them to life term in March. Eight of them secured bail from the Jharkhand high court last week. They visited Sinha’s residence on Friday, where the minister welcomed them with garlands and sweets.

Pushed on the backfoot with photos of the garlanding circulating on social media, Sinha said, “I have full faith in our judicial system and rule of law. Unfortunately, irresponsible statements are being made about my actions when all that I am doing is honouring the due process of law. Those that are innocent will be spared and the guilty will be appropriately punished.”

Jayant Sinha with those convicted in the lynching of a coal trader

Sinha, BJP fanning communal tension: Cong

Jayant’s father, rebel BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, also found himself under fire. He tweeted, “Earlier, I was the nalayak baap (foolish father) of a layak beta (meritorious son). Now the roles are reversed. That is twitter. I do not approve of my son’s action. But I know even this will lead to further abuse. You can never win.”

Sources said Jayant Sinha told the men that it was his duty to ensure they get justice. The eight reportedly thanked him for helping them get a lawyer and taking their case before the HC. The Congress accused Sinha and BJP of fanning communal tension. “It is only in ‘new India’ where those supposed to get the noose are being garlanded,” the party said. “A minister in the BJP government, which honours those accused of rioting, is now garlanding convicts of lynching. Is the Modi government encouraging social unstability?” it added.

JMM working president and former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren tagged the minister’s alma mater Harvard University. “This is truly despicable. @Harvard Your alumnus @jayantsinha felicitating the accused in cow related lynching death in India. Is this what @Harvard stands for?” he tweeted. CPM’s Sitaram Yechury also attacked BJP for “tearing India’s social fabric” and promoting politics of hate.

Seeking to clarify the events, Sinha said, “When these people were granted bail, they came to my residence and I wished them well. Let the law take its own course. The guilty will be punished and the innocent will be set free.” He reiterated that he was a public representative and had taken an oath to protect the law. He said he condemned all acts of violence and rejected any type of vigilantism, but had misgivings about the fast-track court judgment sentencing each accused to life imprisonment. In a tweet, he said, “The Ranchi HC, which is the first court of appeal, has suspended the sentence…and released them on bail while admitting their case. The case will once again be re-heard.”