Breaking his silence on violence by cow vigilantes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said most of them were “anti-social” elements who were running “shops” in the name of cow protection.
“I will ask state governments to prepare dossiers on such people, as 70-80 per cent of them will be found to be involved in anti-social activities which no society approves of,” Modi said.
The condemnation by the Prime Minister comes nearly a month after Dalits skinning a dead cow in Una, Gujarat, were flogged by gau rakshaks who accused them of killing the animal. In the massive political storm that followed, Chief Minister Anandiben Patel stepped down last week.
Since the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in his home in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, in September 2015 by a mob that accused him of consuming beef, at least five people have been killed in 16 major incidents of vigilantism across eight states in North India, in which dozens have been beaten and humiliated by gau rakshaks.
Most of the victims have been Muslims, though some Hindus have been targeted as well. On Saturday, a trucker drowned after allegedly jumping into a river in panic after he hit stray cows on a highway in Madhya Pradesh.
Modi’s castigation of gau rakshaks came at a town hall meeting he held here to mark the second anniversary of his government’s MyGov initiative.
“In recent days we have seen there are people who have opened shops in the name of gau raksha… I feel so angry at times. Some people who are engaged in anti-social activities for the whole night wear the mask of gau rakshaks in the day. I say some people do it in order to deflect attention from their ills; they don the mantle of gau rakshaks and masquerade as cow protectors,” he said.
Later in the evening, the PM posted three tweets invoking Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave: “The sacred practice of cow worship & the compassion of Gau Seva can’t be misused by some miscreants posing as Gau Rakshaks… Misdeeds of some, posing as Gau Rakshaks are doing a great disservice to the noble deed of Gau Seva, as practiced by Bapu & Vinoba Bhave… There is absolutely no need for anyone to take the law in his or her hands & disturb… harmony & togetherness.”
At his town hall, the PM noted that more cows died from consuming plastic than from being slaughtered, and remarked that those who really wanted to serve the animal should work towards stopping that.
“If they ensure that people stop littering plastic, which is consumed by cows, then this will be the biggest cow service… Social service is not to harass others. It requires affection, sacrifice and compassion,” he said.
Recalling his own work, Modi said that at one health camp organised by him for cows, at least two buckets full of plastic were removed from the stomach of an animal.
There is an increasing perception that the attacks on Dalits in Gujarat and similar incidents in other states — all of which, except one, are now under BJP rule, either fully or in alliance — could damage the party’s outreach to SCs in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. The PM has been under attack from the Opposition for his silence on the matter.
Modi took a swipe at “some opinionmakers” who he said were in the habit of “seeking answers” from the PM even if something happened at lower levels of government.
“Today if something happens at the panchayat level, I am asked questions; if something happens at the nagar panchayat level, I am asked questions; if something happens at zilla parishad, I am asked questions; if something happens at nagar palika, I am asked questions; if something happens at mahanagar palika, I am asked questions; if something happens in states, then too a reply is sought from the Prime Minister.
“Politically it is fine, for TRPs too it may be fine, but it creates problems for the Prime Minister. There is nothing wrong if the Prime Minister is questioned, it should happen in a democracy and it should happen more in case of a person like me. But a negative fallout of this is that the panchayat, nagar panchayat, district and the state do not feel their responsibility. They think that everything is the responsibility of the Prime Minister,” he said.
The Congress, however, remained unimpressed with the Prime Minister’s words. “Scripted, stage managed showmanship is not what India needs. Modiji, Dalits and poor facing violence don’t need ‘anger’ but ‘action’,” party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted. “Cow vigilantism, not cow protection is rampant in BJP-ruled states. Does the PM admit that BJP CMs are hand in glove or plain incompetent?” he asked.
Modi also spoke on a range of other subjects, including the economy, governance and the diaspora.
“Rapid and continued economic growth of over 8 per cent over the next 30 years” would bring to India “the best that we see in the world” today, he said. The PM made a strong pitch for people’s participation in governance, and not merely giving five-year “contracts” to governments.
“Our country has always believed that good governance is bad politics. After winning one election, governments keep thinking how to win the next election,” he said.
“India first” is the central point of his government’s diplomatic engagements, Modi said. “It is about protecting India’s strategic interests, it is to ensure that India marches forward in achieving economic prosperity and reaches the position which it is destined to reach.”
The Indian diaspora, the PM said, had become very proactive, assertive, and can help in improving ties with many countries. “India is making its place (in the world) with new energy and prestige,” he said.
Answering a question on India’s external engagement, Modi said there was no need to use words like aggressive, progressive and proactive in talking about the country’s foreign policy, which the questioner had used.
This was the PM’s first town hall in the country. He met many of those who had contributed to his radio programme Mann Ki Baat. He also gave awards in several categories to those who had utilised digital platforms to participate in governance through MyGov and other portals. A new app was launched to allow mobile users to connect with the website of the Prime Minister’s Office at the event.
Earlier, opening the daylong programme, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister for IT, Law and Justice, said the user base of the government’s citizen engagement platform should touch at least 10-15 crore, given that the country has 103 crore mobile phone users.
“The country is changing. Digital democracy is the essence of India and Digital India is the destiny of India. MyGov is the biggest platform of Digital India,” Prasad said.