Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday came down heavily on ‘cow vigilantism’, saying the overwhelming majority of ‘gau rakshaks’ were actually antisocials engaged in dubious activities, who have proclaimed themselves to be protectors of cows to cover up their misdeeds.
“I get so angry,” Modi said as he seized upon a question on volunteerism at a townhall-type event to launch his attack on ‘gau rakshaks’. “Kabhi kabhi ye jo gau raksha ke naam par kuch log apni dukaane khol kar baith gaye hain, mujhey itna gussa ata hai (Some people have been running a business the name of gau raksha. I feel so angry),” he said, distancing his party and government from growing instances of vigilantism.
“I have seen that some people who indulge in antisocial activities through the night put on robes of gau rakshaks by day,” the PM said in the strongest comments by any saffron leader on cow vigilantism, seen to have been instigated and encouraged by BJP‘s assertive “beef ban” campaigns with Muslims and Dalits often being the targets of violence.
“I appeal to state governments to prepare dossiers on these swayam sevis. Some 70-80% will turn out to be engaged in dubious activities not acceptable to the society. Apni buraiyon se bachne ke liye ye gau raksha ka chola pehente hain (They don the robes of gau rakshaks to protect themselves from being punished for misdeeds).”
In a put down for cow protection campaigners, Modi said people will be surprised to know that most cows die of eating plastic rather than slaughter. “If those who want to give service to cows only prevent cows from eating plastic and stop people from (throwing) plastic, it will be a significant gau sewa,” the PM said.
The sharp denunciation of violent incidents related to gau rakshaks taking the law into their own hands in states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat draws a line for BJP. The Una incident in Gujarat in particular is seen to have hurt BJP at a time when it is trying to vigorously woo Dalits ahead of next year’s Uttar Pradesh polls.
The PM did not disassociate himself from the cause of protection of cows, attesting to the reverence in which the bovine animal has been held by prefacing his comments with a reference to stories of “battles between rajas and badshahs”, where ‘badshahs’ often placed cows before their forces. “The rajas would fear committing a sin (by killing he cows) and lose the battle,” he said pointedly, using a metaphor of conflict between Hindu and Muslim rulers. But he said that vigilantism was not the answer.
In response to a question by Noida-based architect Chhavi Yadav on the qualities of a good volunteer, the PM elaborated his message, saying “true service of others requires a sense of compassion and sacrifice This does not mean harassing others”.
BJP circles saw the forthright denunciation as the declaration of Modi’s intent not to let Hindutva zealots distract attention away from his government’s priorities and achievements.
He also urged the people to take time off to inquire about the well-being of ordinary folk they meet in everyday life.
Fielding a range of questions at the event organised to mark completion of two years of the citizen-connect programme ‘MyGov’, the PM also responded to criticism by opposition leaders that he does not comment on urgent events.”They say the PM is answerable for all this. It is good politically, I think also good for the (TV) TRPs,” he said. The job is that of district administration and state governments rather than the PM, he said.