Will Modi enforce his talk on cow vigilantism?

Will Modi enforce his talk on cow vigilantism?

 Prime Minister Narendra Modi's assertion that killing of people in the name of cow protection is not acceptable is not for the first time. Last year too, he had come down heavily on the cow vigilantes or gau-rakshaks in the wake of numerous attacks on Dalits in the name of preventing transport of cows for slaughter.

If Modi spoke last time seven months before the Uttar Pradesh polls, this time too, he said it ahead of Gujarat elections, which will be held in December this year. In the both the states, the BJP faces a big task to not just win over but also retain Dalit votes. 

Dalits and Muslims have been targeted by cow vigilantes as some of them are seen as traditionally being connected to the trade in skinning and disposing of animal carcases.

The opposition has said that the onus is on the Modi government to ensure that the attacks stop. Many BJP leaders say Modi has the authority and political will to ensure that his message is carried through to stop the violence. 

Addressing a town hall meeting here in August 2016, Modi had declared that "pseudo-gau-rakshaks" were indulging in anti-social activities. Modi's comment came after four Dalit youths were beaten up by cow vigilantes in Gujarat when they were allegedly skinning a dead cow.

This time too, Modi has sought to admonish such groups amid a spurt in media reports of attacks by cow vigilantes.

Last week, a group of people on a train killed 16-year-old Junaid Khan, who was traveling home to his village in Haryana with his brother and two cousins after a shopping excursion to Delhi ahead of Eid. On April 1, Pehlu Khan, who was part of a group of 15 Muslim men carrying cattle in Rajasthan's Alwar district, died after being brutally thrashed along with the others by cow vigilantes.

Since then, Opposition and others have criticised Modi for not strongly condemning the growing list of attacks by self-declared cow vigilantes, many of whom were operating in BJP-ruled states.

On Thursday, Modi spoke against such attacks at Mahatma Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad--a day after people across cities turned up for "Not in My Name" protest against mob attacks. Earlier this week, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said the death of Junaid Khan was "extremely shameful and painful" and that such attacks would not be tolerated.

This time, Modi said killing people in the name of "gau bhakti" is not acceptable. "No person in this nation has the right to take the law in his or her own hands in this country. No one spoke about protecting cows more than Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave. This (violence) is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve of."

In his 2016 speech, Modi had said these so-called gau-rakshaks, who claimed to be protectors during the day, often resorted to criminal activities at night. He had also said they had opened shops in the name of gau-raksha. Modi had also urged the states to open dossiers to see how many of them were criminals.

A visibly livid Modi had then also said around 70-80 percent are involved in activities that have no place in the society. "They, therefore, don the mantle of gau rakshaks to hide their ills." He sought to strike a difference between "gau rakshaks and gau bhakts or gau sewaks." "One consists of people with vested interest using cow vigilantism to promote their own agenda and the gau sewaks or gau bhakts took care of the cows, organised health camps and worked to ensure that they did not die because of consuming poly bags.

But the RSS and its affiliates were upset with Modi's statement. RSS general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi said only a "handful" indulged in anti-social activities, while an overwhelming majority were law abiding. A day later, Modi had to clarify on the subject, saying that he had spoken about a handful "fake cow-protectors" at a rally in Telangana.

In October, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said in his Vijayadasmi speech that "many good people working in the field should not be compared with a few trouble makers."

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