Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stressed the government’s commitment to cracking down on cow vigilantes in Rajya Sabha Thursday. At the same time, he dealt at length on the constitutional obligation for cow protection and how it was formulated under Jawaharlal Nehru even though he was “less religious than Indira Gandhi”.
Jaitley warned against a “selective morality” where hurting the sentiments of one side is deemed fair but not those of the other. He was replying to a debate in Rajya Sabha on lynching and attacks on Muslims and Dalits. “All sides have condemned violence, the prime minister has severely condemned it, in fact he has spoken about it thrice,” Jaitley said. “There can be no justification of this violence. Our respect for cows cannot be the reason. Violence can never be a partisan issue. Right to equality and right to religious belief come with the obligation of mutual respect and tolerance…but Mr [Ghulam Nabi] Azad, ask yourself, have we twisted the definition of secularism?”
Reading out from Article 48 and harking back to the long discussions on the issue in the Constituent Assembly that tasks the state with cow protection, Jaitley said: “This is written by Babasaheb Ambedkar. If today he wrote this, Satish Mishraji’s party would be the first to call him communal.” Mishra, the senior-most BSP MP after Mayawati’s resignation, said his party had never questioned the constitutional obligation to cow protection. Azad pointed out that cow slaughter is not allowed in his state, J&K, despite its Muslim majority the fact that the law was passed by a Hindu king.
Jaitley said, “Independently, just as killing of a human being in the name of cow or assaulting or lynching him has to be unequivocally condemned, nobody should try, at least in areas where there is a prohibition, to eulogise the fact that I see nothing wrong in cow being slaughtered. One of your chief ministers of a prohibited state — it means where cow slaughter is prohibited — has the audacity to say, ‘Given a choice, I will eat beef’. Congress workers said in front of television cameras I will show how a cow is slaughtered and then have a festival. By doing this they do as much damage to the country as the gau rakshak on a train.”
He was referring to the statements of Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah and the slaughter of a calf in Kerala by Youth Congress activists. This is a problem, he said of a “selective morality” or a “selective call of conscience”.
Jaitley said that for every incident of cow vigilantism, the home minister despite an injured foot had personally spoken to the state chief minister to ensure strict action is taken. Sibal targets Modi
Opposition speakers quoted from speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to fix responsibility for the violence, while the Treasury benches used Nehru to establish the legitimacy of the RSS and the idea of cow protection being central to the identity of India. Kapil Sibal quoted from Modi’s speeches, including one in 2012 when the PM had invoked Maharana Pratap’s commitment to cow protection, and another where he had said: “I am unable to understand why you are silent. Why are you taking this lying down?”
Accusing the PM of doublespeak, Sibal said: “Your own people, your Bajrang Dal, the VHP, these are the people who are actually doing this. And the PM very glibly says that no, no, these are antisocial elements. So I challenge the PM. Why does he not publicly say that the VHP is antisocial, that the Bajrang Dal is antisocial? But he has no courage to say that because that is the political support he gets from them for winning elections.” Pointing to the treasury benches, he accused them of being fake Hindus for not upholding the values of tolerance and protection of all communities.
Opposition parties walked out after HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar invoked the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and Jaitley reminded the Left about Opposition Vice President candidate Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s criticism of the Left Front government in West Bengal and asked the Left why there is a rise in political violence in Kerala whenever the Left is in power. Azad urged him not to try to dent Opposition unity. Earlier, Javadekar accused the Opposition of selective amnesia and trotted out pre-2014 figures of lynchings.