New Delhi: A day after #notinmyname online campaign against increasing numbers of mob lynching incidents set off a chain of protests across various Indian towns and cities, prime minister Narendra Modi broke his long silence over the issue, though he stopped short of condemning the killings wholheartedly.
The protests in which thousands of people participated on June 28 garnered enormous national and international media attention, a factor, civil society activists and opposition leaders said, could have compelled the prime minister to caution the cow vigilantes.
Speaking in Ahmedabad at the inauguration of the Sabarmati Ashram centenary celebrations, he invoked Mahatma Gandhi to speak out against growing violence around cow vigilantism.
“Today I want to say a few words and express sadness on some of the things going on. We are a land of non-violence. We are the land of Mahatma Gandhi. Why do we forget that. No one spoke about protecting cows more than Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave. Yes. It should be done. But, killing people in the name of Gau Bhakti is not acceptable. This is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve. As a society, there is no place for violence. No person in this nation has the right to take the law in his or her own hands in this country. Violence never has and never will solve any problem,” Modi said, adding that killing people in the name of protecting cows was not acceptable.
However, the opposition leaders remain unconvinced at Modi’s political messaging to the saffron cow protection groups. Modi’s statements were ambiguous, they said, and at best an abstract apology for the rising violence that have left people from Muslim and Dalit groups insecure and fearful. Many political leaders told The Wire that if the prime minister was concerned about containing such violence, he should have promised to initiate quick legal action against the vigilantes.
Speaking to The Wire, Manoj Jha of the Rashtriya Janata Dal said, “We don’t understand what to make of words which sound hollow, since there is a disconnect from action. In fact, all sound and no substance in terms of action has emboldened such vigilante groups. They are out to destroy the nuances of the Indian republic. We have had enough of empty words so far from the PM. What this nation urgently requires is a robust legislation against ‘mob lynching’. Can he bring about that?”
Jha referred to similar statements made by Modi previously but recalled that he has made no efforts to stop the violence which, according to him, has only been growing under the patronage of the Sangh parivar. Last year, in the aftermath of agitations triggered by the brutal beating of four Dalit cattle-rearers in Una, Gujarat, Modi had made an emotional speech against such violence. He had even termed the violent Gau Rakshaks groups as “anti-social”.
In 2015, eight days after Mohammed Akhlaq was lynched by a mob in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, on the suspicion that he had stored beef in his refrigerator, Modi had made a similar appeal at an election gathering in Bihar.
“Hindus should decide whether to fight Muslims or poverty. Muslims have to decide whether to fight Hindus or poverty. Both need to fight poverty together. The country has to stay united, only communal harmony and brotherhood will take the nation forward. People should ignore controversial statements made by politicians, as they are doing so for political gains,” he had said.
Notwithstanding such statements by Modi, lynching incidents related to cow slaughter have spiked dramatically across north India and the union government has done little to take action, opposition leaders said.
“The PM was forced to condemn the killings under public pressure, especially after the protests all over the country on Wednesday. In the last three years, the government has shown no interest to stop this violence. As a result, the cow protections groups are creating havoc with impunity. I consider PM’s statements as an eyewash. When the government will start taking action against the culprits, only then we will take him seriously,” said Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress.
Speaking to The Wire, CPI (M) leader Nilotpal Basu said, “Modi’s statements today are similar to what he had said earlier. There was no impact after that.. Now that he has invoked Mahatma Gandhi, he should also follow Gandhi’s approach on cow slaughter ban. What Modi displayed today is plain doublespeak which has now come to be a characteristic of the RSS and other Hindutva forces. On the ground level, however, there will be a courageous fightback to bring back some sanity. It is only because of the international coverage of #notinmyname campaign that he was forced to say something on the matter.”
Similarly, Samajwadi Party spokesperson Ghanshyam Tiwari, too, demanded that there should be concrete action regarding mob lynching cases. “It (PM’s statements) is a good start but the PM is the chief communicator in the country today. One statement or one tweet here and there would not make a difference. If the PM is serious, he has to unify voices in civil society, his government and his own party. He should build a campaign till the time these lynchings do not stop. His token statements will not serve any purpose.”
He added that the BJP has used cow protection camapigns to polarise society and this strategy has received patronage from the highest level of the saffron party. “Everytime a state goes into election, the BJP takes recourse to campaigns like Gau Raksha or Love Jihad.” Tiwari said.
Mohammed Salim of CPI (M) called Modi’s staements as mere lip service. “Only when thousands of people showed up on streets against cow vigilantism and mob lynching, he woke from slumber. Unfortunately, the PM who thumped his 56 inch chest and promised jobs is only delivering mobs,” he said.
He said that the the Modi government should first answer how many of those culprits have been prosecuted. “At present, the police have become so complicit that it has become difficult to even file an FIR in the cases. When we went to Junaid’s (the 16-year-old who was lynched on a train recently) house, his relatives told us that Muslims are being constantly harassed, teased, profiled, and beaten up for small matters. In Modi’s statements, there is no indication of any concrete action or clear message to the administration. Crime against women, Dalits, minorities have been increasing every day. And the government is doing nothing to deter it.”