The expression of pain and anger at the killings of innocent people at the hands of murderous lynch mobs came in the 29th minute. “I want to express my pain and anger about developments that have taken place in India,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi told an audience at the Sabarmati Ashram yesterday, on June 29.
A day after he returned from the US, via the Netherlands – where prime minister Mark Rutte gifted him a sea-green bike – the PM was in Ahmedabad to celebrate both the centenary of Sabarmati Ashram, where Mahatma Gandhi plotted and strategised the twists and turns that finally led to independence, as well as the 150th birth anniversary of Shrimad Rajchandraji, the spiritual guru of the Mahatma.
The PM led up to the critical part of his statement in his 45:44 minute speech by referring to Bapu’s favourite bhajan, ‘vaishnava jana toh dene re kahiye je’ (incidentally, the #NotInMyName protest in Delhi on June 28 had started with the same bhajan) as well as Gandhi’s obsession with “swachhata” or cleanliness.
He couldn’t resist a dig at the Opposition either :
“Zaroorat padne par pujya bapu ka naam lena, hamne bahut saalon se dekha hai,” Modi said at the 28th minute. When the need arose, we saw how people invoked Bapu’s name to suit their own ends.
And then in the 29.22 minute:
I want to express my pain and anger about developments in India.
The country that never killed an ant.
The country that fed stray dogs roaming around.
The country that fed fish in the ocean.
The country in which a man like Bapu taught us the lesson of ahimsa.
What has happened to us ?
Is this my country, the country of Bapu ?
What are we doing?
A quiet settles over the crowd in the video put up at the PM’s personal website, although, unfortunately, the camera never once pans to the audience to show us if they share the PM’s contrition.
Modi talks about accidents, when a patient dies for no fault of the doctor, then returns to the deliberate nature of the recent lynchings.
Is this my country? Is this pujya Bapu’s country? What are we doing? And these things are being encouraged? (Minute 30:55)
The cow is mentioned for the first time, seconds later (Minute 31:25). “If you want to do gau-raksha or gau-bhakti, then no one better than the Mahatma and Vinoba Bhave to show you the way. The country has to walk on that path.
He tells the crowd how he first met Vinoba Bhave, as a young man, and when he was sitting at the man’s feet, Vinoba ji said, ‘mar jao, mar jao.’
I was surprised, said Modi, what is he telling me to do, but I continued to sit at this feet. After a few minutes, Vinoba Bhave said : ‘For the cow. For the mother.’ (Minute 32:44)
‘But does this mean that because of this gau-bhakti you have the right to kill a man ? Is this gau bhakti? Is this gau raksha? This cannot be the path that Bapu showed us. This is the not the message of Vinoba Bhave’s life,” Modi beseeches and scolds the crowd at the same time. (Minute 33:18-33:30)
And now the coup de grace, in Minute 34:17 :
Gaay ke naam pe insaan ko maar dein…
In the name of the cow, to kill a human being.
The PM seems to be choking up. A few seconds ago he has taken a sip of water. But now he takes charge of himself and tells us a story of the time he was a child in his village (presumably, Vadnagar), many years ago.
How a child was born to a family in the village after many years. How the village fed one cow every morning with a few rotis and everyone was happy. But then one day, in a minor stampede, the child came under the legs of the cow and was killed. The village was plunged into grief.
But the next morning, what do the people see? The cow is standing in front of the hut where the boy lived. Just standing there, motionlessly, while the tears roll down her face.
Minute 38:27 :
Gaay ke aansoon. Gaay na khaana kha rahi hai. Gaay na paani pi rahi hai. The cow stood in front of that house for many days. Everyone tried to feed her, cajoled her to eat. But she refused. Soon, the cow left her body. In repentance for the death of a small boy, the cow sacrificed her own life – I have seen this as a child. I still remember that image.
The PM is visibly choking up again.
Minute 41:25 :
So now when I hear that in the name of the cow someone is killed…The law will take its own course, of course. But people don’t have the right to take law into their own hands.
The speech ends soon after. Narendra Modi has returned to being PM. I want to tell my countrymen that violence is not the answer (Minute 42:05). That in the land of the Mahatma, you have to take on the responsibilities of others. And remember those who gave their lives for the nation during the freedom struggle. Their dream was to make this a country where all citizens would be equal. And it was here in Sabarmati that the seeds were sowed.
Clearly, the Prime Minister is sending a message to the lynch-mobs roaming the streets and trains of Haryana and Rajasthan and Jharkhand – where a mob killed Mohammed Alimuddin, a meat trader near Ranchi around the same time the PM was speaking in Ahmedabad — but its not clear they’re listening.
This is the third time in the last three years that the PM has spoken on this same subject. The first time he spoke in Nawada, in Bihar, eight days after Mohammed Akhlaque was killed in Dadri on September 28, 2015, for allegedly storing beef in his refrigerator – the PM was in the US then, meeting Barack Obama.
The second time the PM spoke was after the incidents in Una, Gujarat on July 11, 2016, when four Dalits were flogged for allegedly killing a cow.
“I feel so angry,” he said at the time. “I have seen some people who indulge in antisocial activities for the whole night, but wear the garb of cow protectors during the day.”
“Dossiers” on the vigilante groups should be opened, 70-80 per cent of whom were anti-social elements, Modi said. But then, and now, he stopped short of asking any state government to take legal action against them.
Question is, is anyone listening to the PM? BJP president @AmitShah, Modi’s closest aide, who is interested in everything from Srikanth Kidambi’s superb achievements in international badminton to the importance of the Tamil poet Subramania Bharathi and godman Ramana Maharishi, has still not said one word in condolence or contrition – at least on his Twitter timeline – about the horrific lynching of 15-year-old Junaid Khan on his way home a couple of days before Eid.
Interestingly, in an interview to ‘The Week’ magazine on June 23, retweeted by @AmitShahOffice, the BJP president says :
You think am naive to reveal my weak points? That’s job of opposition. I talk good things: Amit Shah tells The Week
Congress leader P. Chidambaram took the advice to heart :
“PM warmed gau rakshaks and lynch mobs. Good. Let him tell the country how he will enforce his writ.”
And again :
“On a day when PM warned gau rakshaks, Mohd Alimuddin was lynched by a mob in Jharkhand. Obviously, lynch mobs don’t fear PM.”
Jharkhand chief minister Raghubar Das, whose state has witnessed several lynchings, still hasn’t said one word regarding these incidents, at least on his Twitter timeline @dasraghubar. There are comments and retweets about the PM trip in the US thanking @FLOTUS and @POTUS, attending group marriage ceremonies, expressions of intent to help unemployed youth and the decision to make a diversion on the Dhanbad-Chandrapura rail line.
Back in Gujarat, a few hours after he spoke feelingly at Sabarmati ashram, Modi went to Rajkot, where he inaugurated the Sauni project in which water from the Narmada river will now be brought to these parched parts of Gujarat. The Aji dam was lit up in bright lights – indeed, the PM’s 9 km-long journey to the spot was like a community Diwali, the city’s main route spectacularly decked up with cut outs and coloured lights in saffron, blue and green.
The TV shots were incredible. No wonder Rajkot was bursting at the seams with pride. “Modiji is coming. We are celebrating Diwali four months earlier,” said a man to ‘Aaj Tak.’
An opposition Congress leader claimed the ‘roadshow’ had cost Rs 75 crores – other more conservative estimates put it at Rs 20 crores. But the BJP government, whose chief minister Vijay Rupani is going to contest from Rajkot in the December Assembly elections, wasn’t giving any expenditure figures.
Meanwhile, Haryana chief minister @mlkhattar has announced a Rs 10 lakh compensation for Junaid Khan’s death. No one from the BJP, from the state or the Centre, has still been to his village to condole with the family.