Narendra Modi has made his displeasure apparent, even if belatedly. On two consecutive days, the prime minister lashed out at the vigilantism of self-styled gau rakshaks or cow protectors, decrying them as criminals.
On Saturday, addressing a townhall-style event in Delhi, the prime minister declared that he gets very angry at “those who are into the gau-rakshak business”. “A gau bhakt [cow devotee] is different, gau seva [cow protection] is different,” he said. “I have seen that some people are into crimes all night and wear the garb of gau rakshaks in the day.”
The next day he went further, calling for the punishment of "fake" gau rakshaks.
During his maiden visit to the state of Telangana, he asked people to protect Dalits. “If you have a problem, if you feel like attacking someone, attack me, not my Dalit brothers,” he said. “If you want to shoot anyone, shoot me, not my Dalit brothers.”
The lamentations came nearly a month after a group of Dalit men were assaulted by upper caste vigilantes in Una, Gujarat, for skinning a dead cow. So far Modi had stayed silent on the issue of cow protection vigilantism. Last September, when a mob lynched a Muslim man in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, on suspicion of having killed a cow, Modi had hedged the subject. Instead, he spoke about peace:
“I have said it earlier too. Hindus should decide whether to fight Muslims or poverty. Muslims have to decide whether to fight Hindus or poverty. Both need to fight poverty together. The country has to stay united, only communal harmony and brotherhood will take the nation forward. People should ignore controversial statements made by politicians, as they are doing so for political gains.”
Modi’s statements over the last weekend are being seen as political fire-fighting since there was pressure building on the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Political cartoonists too perceived a possible cow calculus in Modi’s newfound anger and pain.
But Modi's message has clearly not permeated to the ground.
On Monday, the Indian Express carried an interview with a Madhya Pradesh government official who predicted that the third world war will start over a cow. Mahamandleshwar Swami Akhileshwaranand Giri, chairman of executive council of the Madhya Pradesh Gaupalan Evam Pashudhan Samvardhan Board, claimed that the cow has always been a source of contention. "There are references in mythology and the first war of independence in 1857 began over the cow," he said, adding that it was natural for gau rakshaks to get angry when they saw dead or injured cows.
Last month, a BJP MLA from Hyderabad, Raja Singh, justified the assault on Dalits in Una by cow vigilante groups. In a viral Facebook video, Singh said, “Jo Dalit gaye ke maas ko le ja raha tha, jo uski pitai hui hai, woh bohut hi achhi hui hai." Those Dalits who were taking the cow, the cow meat, those who were beaten, it was a very good thing to happen."