No one imagined the `Not in my Name' protest to taste success so soon. Less than 24 hours after a few hundreds gathered in different cities of India - a crowd that many sniggered was less than one you find near a kulfi waala - Prime Minister Narendra Modi has joined in, taking strong objection to violence in the name of cow protection. “Killing people in the name of gau bhakti is not acceptable,'' he thundered adding, “Violence never has and never will solve any problem.”
Significant to note that Modi was speaking at a function in Sabarmati, the land of the Mahatma, for the Ashram's centenary celebrations. The Mahatma's grandson, Gopalakrishna Gandhi speaking to a TV channel assumed that the PM must have been influenced by the great soul who lived in Sabarmati and said the words could have not been said a day too soon.
Except that this is the third warning, if you wish to interpret it that way, given by the PM. In August last year, speaking at a Town Hall meeting to mark the second anniversary of MyGov.in, Modi hit out at the self-styled gau rakshaks, accusing them of running ‘shops’ in the name of cow protection. He asked state governments to prepare dossiers on these “criminals donning the garb of cow vigilantes,” saying 80% of them do illegal activities at night and become cow protectors in the day.
A day later, in Hyderabad, Modi pointed his gun again at gau rakshaks, accusing them of having nothing to do with the cow but only a desire to create tension in society. With the Una (Gujarat) incident on his mind, where Dalits had been flogged for skinning dead cattle in July 2016, the PM raised the emotional pitch saying, “If you have to attack, attack me. Stop attacking my Dalit brethren. If you have to shoot, shoot me but not my Dalit brothers. This game should stop.”
Ten months later, Modi has had to speak out again because the game of lynching that had just begun last July, is a national bloody sport now. Where medal winners roam around, emboldened by the emasculated law enforcing machinery and the fact that the movement of hate is education-neutral. ‘Lynchistan’ thrives in an India struggling to create employment, where Rs 1000 and a packet of biryani (or should it be dal-chawaal) is enough to bring out a man's most base instincts. It is justified by imperfect whataboutery, a flashback into the riots of the past to justify killings now.
It was important for the PM to declare ‘Not in my Name’ in an oblique manner because his name has been dragged to the mud by lumpen elements who claim an umbilical cord connection with his right-wing government and the ruling party, thanks to the love for the cow. But the leader of the world's largest democracy cannot be seen as presiding over a mobocracy. He cannot be condoling people who died in a forest fire in Portugal, while ignoring the flames in his own backyard. ‘Manmohanisation’ of Modi is not an option.
But is Modi's disapproval enough? Is “Gandhi would not have approved of killing in the name of gau bhakti” enough reprimand to bring the criminals around? Is the reprimand strong enough to make the masters of these vigilante groups quake in their boots and stop Muslim and Dalit hunting?
I am afraid not. While the PM's words, however belated, are necessary, he needs to match words with action. It is obvious that the harsh words last August were not good enough to deter hate crimes. Did any state government prepare a dossier on these criminals? Was enough done beyond the speech to goad states to crack the whip on anyone, repeat anyone, who crosses the line. In the name of cow or any bull.
If recent events are anything to go by, the answer seems to be ‘No’.
According to an India Spend analysis, 24 of the 28 people killed in violence centred on bovine issues between 2010 and 2017 were Muslims. More than 52% of the attacks were based on rumours. 97 per cent of the attacks were reported after May 2014, when Modi came to power and half the attacks - 32 out of 63 - were reported from states governed by the BJP.
If September 2015 saw the killing of Mohammed Akhlaq merely on suspicion of keeping beef in his refrigerator, the latest statistic is a 15-year-old named Junaid. After an argument went out of hand, Junaid was stabbed on a train by a mob, after being reportedly taunted about his food habits. A country where a teenager is not safe because of the religion he was born into, should hang its head in shame. Mother India owes forgiveness to Junaid's mother.
In fact, if the PM wants to send a strong message to the goons, he should visit Ballabgarh and offer condolences to Junaid's family. The government should ensure the case is heard in a fast-track court. No one knows the power of optics better than Modi. “Sabka saath, sabka vikas” cannot be a mere slogan, an empty catchphrase which finds no resonance with the Indian of 2017, gloating in his insensitivity and “they deserve it” rhetoric.
In fact, it isn't even about Muslims. I suspect what is happening today is net practise. Dalits yesterday, Muslims today and tomorrow it could be you, me, anyone who is found inconvenient. If Modi personally does not step in, it will be like single window clearance for license to kill. The clearing authority being an impassive state, a social media in bloodlust mode and a mainstream media, infested with the termite that renders the spine dysfunctional.
Unless we want to change the opening words in the Preamble to our Constitution to, “We the Mobs of India...”
Views expressed by the author are personal.