Breaking his silence over self-proclaimed “gau rakshaks”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday called for stern actions against them and asked states to prepare dossiers of those who are running “shops” in the name of cow protection. Whether one endorses the BJP’s ideology or not, this newspaper appreciates the Prime Minister’s decision to break his silence and condemn cow-protection groups.
At an event on Saturday, Modi minced no words and described them as criminals masquerading as cow protectionists. There has been a spate of attacks by these so-called cow vigilantes over the past few weeks, with Dalits as well as religious minorities bearing the brunt of such activities. For far too long, the Prime Minister has remained silent as vigilante groups ran wild.
People have been accosted on the mere suspicion of transporting or eating beef. Our national dailies have been filled with reports about how people have been seriously beaten, and even killed in certain instances. Modi’s comments on Saturday should be a warning to law enforcement agencies across states that such self-styled cow vigilante groups are not endorsed by the BJP government at the Centre. Action should be taken against those who claim hurt religious sentiments and take the law into their own hands –which is indeed the very essence of vigilantism.
However, one should not get carried away by Modi’s recent comments. It is not a moment, where the Prime Minister has wholeheartedly embraced modernity and shunned his supporters. Like all politicians, it is safe to suggest that Modi has calculated his gains and losses before criticising cow vigilante groups. It is no secret that these groups have received the tacit endorsement of the BJP in the past.
Modi’s comments come days after thousands of Dalits in Gujarat took to the streets of Ahmedabad to protest against the flogging of four Dalit tannery workers by self-styled cow vigilantes in Una for skinning a dead animal. They told the Gujarat government that they will stop disposing of dead cattle. The collective pledge was taken at a rally called by as many as 30 Dalit groups from across Gujarat.
With Dalits across the state up in arms against the government’s handling of the issue, the party could face the heat in the elections next year. Anandiben Patel’s resignation last week from the post of Chief Minister has also been seen as an attempt to douse the flames. The outrage among Dalits has spread around India, most crucially in Uttar Pradesh, which goes to the polls next year.
For over two years, Modi has been trying to lure Dalits into the BJP’s fold. Una undermined this strategy overnight, as is evident from the poor response to the yatra that a clutch of Buddhist monks had organised to garner support for Modi in Uttar Pradesh. Even Punjab, which also goes to the polls next year, has the largest share of Dalits in its population at 31.9 percent. With the burgeoning presence of the Aam Aadmi Party, the BJP can ill-afford any further missteps.