Speaking at a public event in August 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had condemned cow vigilantism. They were anti-social elements, he said, who had set up shop in the name of the cow. At that time, it had seemed that the PM’s rebuke, entirely welcome, had come a little late. In July, the flogging of Dalits in Una by a group of gau rakshaks had sparked anger and outrage across the country. A year earlier, in September 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched at Dadri on the suspicion of storing beef. The incidents at Dadri and Una had deepened fears that the BJP’s large electoral victory in 2014 had emboldened those lumpens who would use gau raksha as a cover for taking the law into their own hands, against Muslims or Dalits. Even though belated, the PM’s reprimand last year held out the assurance that such violence and vigilantism would not go unchecked. Now, the attack by gau rakshaks on a group of men on National Highway 8 in the Behror area of Alwar last week is a reminder that his message is not being heeded and respected by a government led by his own party.
By all accounts, the Vasundhara Raje-led government in Rajasthan has much to answer for in the incident at Alwar, in which a group of Muslim men was accosted and assaulted by a band of gau rakshaks — one of them, Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer, died later — for allegedly smuggling cows for slaughter. The police arrived late at the scene of the crime. As this paper has reported, even though the victims had receipts to show they had purchased the cows, it was quick to register FIRs against them for illegally transporting cattle for slaughter under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal Act 1995. It is yet to show similar alacrity or efficiency in nabbing all the accused and moving against them under the IPC. On Wednesday, Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria claimed that “both sides are at fault” — in effect, and in a grotesque parody of his own responsibility as a minister, blaming the victims.
The Rajasthan government must be held answerable for the incident at Alwar, for the apparent climate of impunity in which such an attack became possible. But there is a wider accountability, too. It is bizarre that Union minister of state for parliamentary affairs and minorities Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi all but denied the incident in Rajya Sabha on Thursday. It does not behove the governments, at the Centre and in the state, to do anything less than accept the enormity of the outrage and commit that the guilty would be brought to book. Tragically, this basic assurance of a constitutional democracy — that action would be taken in accordance with the law against vigilantism of any kind — seems imperilled in a climate in which BJP chief ministers, in UP, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat, compete with each other to sound more muscular and to bring in the more draconian legislation on the cow.