Listen to the PM

Prime minister delivers an unambiguous rebuke to cow vigilantes. His party, government must communicate his message.

By: Editorial | Published:August 8, 2016 12:03 am

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned gau rakshak vigilantism, firmly and unambiguously, at a Delhi town hall meeting on Saturday, he broke a deafening silence. Bigotry and blackmail, lumpenism and violence in the name of the cow have picked up pace ever since the Modi government came to power in 2014 armed with a huge mandate. Last year, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched by a mob in Dadri, not far from the country’s capital, on the suspicion of eating/storing beef. This year, the flogging of Dalits skinning a dead cow in Una, Gujarat, by gau rakshaks, has sparked wide and strong Dalit protests in that state and elsewhere. In this climate, as incidents of violence by cow protection squads grow, as they threaten the safety, security, dignity and livelihoods of Muslims and Dalits, the PM can, in fact, be accused of speaking too late. Yet, the clarity of the rebuke administered by him to goons who pose as the Sangh Parivar’s own — they have set up “shops” in the name of cow protection, the PM said, and states must prepare “dossiers” on such “anti-social elements” — cannot be in doubt. For that, it is enormously welcome. The vigilantism of the cow protection squads has sharpened the long-running political challenge for the BJP vis a vis the Dalits. Large sections of India’s most disprivileged have viewed the project of “Hindu unity” with unease: Can the homogenising Sangh Parivar worldview accord them the dignity and equality that is their fundamental right, but which they are still struggling for more than six decades after the constitutional guarantee? Gau

The vigilantism of the cow protection squads has sharpened the long-running political challenge for the BJP vis a vis the Dalits. Large sections of India’s most disprivileged have viewed the project of “Hindu unity” with unease: Can the homogenising Sangh Parivar worldview accord them the dignity and equality that is their fundamental right, but which they are still struggling for more than six decades after the constitutional guarantee? Gau rakshaks have also cocked a snook at the Modi government’s promise of “sabka saath sabka vikas”. At a deeper level, they have challenged the very writ of the state. Now, the PM’s public reprimand could arguably come to the aid of the BJP in its efforts to reach out to the the Dalits, particularly in poll-bound UP. But far more importantly, by piercing the aura of impunity that has surrounded the vigilante groups so far, his message could go some distance in helping restore the authority of the state.

Of course, it will need more than words. PM Modi has laid out a challenge for his own government, for state governments including and especially those led by the BJP, and for his party’s machinery across states — they must now communicate and implement his message. As a series in this newspaper highlights, cow vigilantes are operating organised extortion rackets that are running businesses to the ground. They will have to be curbed at the local level. It will be the responsibility of the structures of the BJP and other Sangh Parivar organisations on the ground in the states to ensure that the PM’s word is not disrespected.

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