Soon after the prime minister Narendra Modi broke his long silence on the issue of violence related to the so-called cow protection campaign spreading across the country, political parties questioned the PM’s timing to flag the serious issue.
Opposition parties have been demanding the PM’s intervention in the matter ever since Mohammad Akhlaq was killed by a lynch mob in Dadri last year for allegedly consuming beef.
Following that horrific incident, other sporadic incidents of brutal violence by Gau Raksha Dals have been reported in many states. These groups have systematically turned into vigilante groups in the last two years where they have beaten up Muslims and Dalits for even trading cattle. At least five Muslims have been killed by these groups in the last one year; and most violence related to cow protection have been reported in BJP-ruled states like Jharkhand, Haryana, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Till his comments on Saturday, the PM had kept mum on the issue. Of late the vigilante groups have begun attacking Dalits and the PM’s statements have come on the heels of growing Dalit anger against the Gau Raksha Dals across the country. Though restrained the responses of the political parties to PM’s statements has been unequivocally critical.
Speaking to The Wire P C Chacko of the Congress party said: “The PM’s statements on cow vigilantism are too late and too little. If he had reacted after the lynching of Akhlaq, the hooliganism could have been nipped in the bud. He did not utter a single word after that. His silence over the last few months contributed to a surge in such atrocities. One must know that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has not taken an about turn on the issue. Cow politics is the main agenda of the RSS at present. Whatever the PM may say, the affiliates of the Sangh parivar will continue this hooliganism. The people want to see an end to this hooliganism. PM Modi should ensure that.”
The Aam Aadmi Party, questioned the sincerity of the PM. Raghav Chaddha of AAP said: “Under the Narendra Modi’s government, we have seen atrocities against Dalits rise at an alarming rate. The statistics clearly point towards this trend. His statements now are clearly intended to pacify the Dalits because the election season is right around the corner.”
“The PM never spoke whenever the religious minorities or Dalits are targeted by violent groups. Otherwise he has constantly been speaking and tweeting about various issues. He wished people of Mozambique on their independence day; he tweeted ‘Happy Republic Day’ to the people of Zambia but he never speaks on issues happening right under his nose. Be it on the recent violence in Kashmir, or atrocities against Dalits and minorities, he has never spoken out,” he added.
Sudhindra Bhadoria of the Bahujan Samaj Party, which has been particularly vocal against the Sangh parivar’s Gau Rakshaks said: “When the Dalits were brutally flogged in Una, that was the time he (Modi) should have spoken out. His statement looks like an afterthought now when the whole country is up in arms against him and the BJP, as a consequence of which the chief minister of Gujarat Anandiben Patel had to go. He obviously realises that his vote base is slipping away. Modi tweets about many things like inauguration of Nita Ambani’s hospital but when there is such a great insult thrown on Behen Mayawati and scores of Dalit men and women were being targeted by Gau Rakshaks, he chose to remain quiet. His statements are little more than lip service.”
The Samajwadi party, which has taken a lot of flak over the handling of Akhlaq’s case, appealed to the PM to take stronger action against the vigilante groups. Pointing towards how cow politics has only benefited the BJP, Gaurav Bhatia of the Samajwadi party told: “It is a welcome sign that the Prime Minister has spoken on the subject after a long drawn silence. But even more important is that the organisations which closely work with the BJP are asked to refrain from encouraging cow vigilantism. Actions will definitely speak louder than words. And if anybody has milked the issue of cow, it is the BJP and other affiliates of the party. PM breaking his silence is a little late. More needs to be done.”
Asked about the distinction that Modi made about ‘Gau Sevaks’ and ‘Gau Rakshaks’, with the former being the sincere ones, Bhatia said: “This is like providing a cover to the culprits. How do you distinguish between the two? Anybody who breaks the law whether he is ‘Gau Rakshak’ or ‘Gau Sevak’ should be punished.”
Similarly, socialist leader Manoj Jha of the Rashtriya Janata Dal said, “There is always a huge gap between what the PM says and what he does – a big disparity between rhetoric and reality. … His slogan of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas turned out to empty rhetoric. Apply that slogan to any programme and any inititiatve of this government and you will see that those have actually translated into, yes, Sabka Saath but only Kuch ka Vikas. If the superficial cow discourse has gone to this extent in politics, only the PM has to be blamed.”
The Left parties, known critics of the Sangh parivar, pointed out what they perceive as the double standards of the BJP on the issue of bovine politics.
Kavita Krishnan, politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist-Liberation) said: “Had he (Modi) raised his voice after the horrific incident at Dadri, maybe the Latehar lynching and the Una incident would not have happened. Where is the action against BJP MLAs -Raja Singh and Sangeet Som who blatantly justified both Dadri and Una? Why is it enough to keep a dossier? Why can’t you say that any outfit found to have indulged in this kind of violence must be banned immediately. These groups have openly uploaded videos of such violence with RSS slogans in the background.”
Both Raja Singh and Sangeet Som have justified the violence unleashed by the Gau Raksha dals. The BJP legislator from Goshamal constituency of Hyderabad, T. Raja Singh Lodh has responded to the Una violence by saying: “Jo Dalit gaay ke maas ko le ja raha tha, jo uski pitai hui hai, woh bohut hi achhi hui hai (Those Dalits who were taking the cow, the cow meat, those who were beaten, it was a very good thing to happen).” In a video uploaded on his Facebook page, Singh addressed Dalits as ‘galeez’ (filthy).
In a similar vein, Sangeet Som, BJP’s MLA from Sardhana in Western UP had made inflammatory statements against Muslims and implicitily justified the lynching of Akhlaq. Accusing the UP government of “helping those who had slaughtered a cow”, he had told a crowd gathered at the Bisara village of Dadri, “Agar nirdoshon ke khilaf karyawahi ki gayi, to munh-tod jawab hamne pehle bhi diya hai aur abh bhi dena jante hain (If action is taken against innocent, we have given a befitting reply earlier and can do so again). We can give a reply whenever we want.”
Nilotpal Basu of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said that “had this (PM’s statements) been from the heart, it should have come much earlier – when Akhlaq’s family was being tormented by the militant saffron groups. But his statements definitely mean one thing. It is an admission that the BJP is in real trouble, particularly in Gujarat where internal dissensions have gripped the party like never before. Apart from this, his statements are insincere and fake.”