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25 July, 2017

Doublespeak on cow protection

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke up against cow vigilantism last week for the third time in a month. On all three occasions he said too little and failed to carry conviction.

Modi spoke on the subject for the first time in his home state of Gujarat towards the end of June, ten months after pro-government gangs killed at least a score of people, mostly Muslims and Dalits, in different parts of the country alleging cow slaughter or beef eating.

He said, “Killing people in the name of gau bhakti (cow worship) is not acceptable. No person has the right to take the law in his or her own hands in this country.”

That statement came after the violent phase of cow vigilantism had invited strong criticism from within the country and outside.

He returned to the theme twice subsequently.

In the last speech on the subject, he said, “Some anti-social elements have incited violence in the name of cow protection. Those engaged in disturbing the harmony in the country are trying to take advantage of the situation.”

He went on to point out that lynchings were tarnishing India’s image. He also claimed some people were settling personal scores in the name of cow protection.

This response came immediately after a spate of “Not in My Name” protests across the country against the lynchings.

Interestingly, there was no word of condemnation of violence in the Prime Minister’s statements. He merely distanced himself from the violent incidents by declaring they were “unacceptable”. He sought to distance his party and its affiliates also from them by insinuating that the violence was the work of some people who had scores to settle. To him, the issue was not the killings but the bad name they brought to the country and to his government.

Simultaneously, Modi sought to reinforce the Hindutva position on the cow. In a series of tweets in Hindi, he said, “People see cow as a mother. Their sentiments are attached to it. We have to see that there are laws to protect cows and breaching them is not an option.”

In Parliament, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, standing in for Home Minister Rajnath Singh, replied to Opposition criticism of the violence by cow vigilantes along the same lines as the Prime Minister.

In a bid to turn the tables on the Opposition, Jaitley, who is a reputed lawyer, pointed out that cow slaughter ban was not Modi’s idea. It was written into the Constitution by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and BR Ambedkar when the BJP was not in the picture.

He was alluding to the mention of ban on cow slaughter in the Constitution as one of the Directive Principles of State Policy. He glossed over the fact that Nehru and Ambedkar had reluctantly agreed to the inclusion of the relevant article in the legally non-enforceable chapter as a compromise in democratic compliance with the wishes of several Congress members of the Constituent Assembly who wanted cow slaughter to be banned respecting Hindu religious sentiments.

The Constitution gives the states the power to ban slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle, not on religious grounds but in the interests of organisation of agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines. Invoking this provision, a majority of the states have already banned cow slaughter without disrupting social harmony.

Thus there is no situation warranting cow vigilantism in the country. The Hindutva elements have deliberately activated the issue with a view to targeting the Muslims and the Dalits. The beef vigilantes claimed to have caught generally turned out to be goat or buffalo meat.

The issue before the nation now is really not cow protection but the life and security of people engaged in occupations like cattle trade and skinning of dead animals. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee put it succinctly when she said gau rakshaks (cow protectors) have turned gau rakshasas (cow demons).

Even as Modi and Jaitley were trying to deflect attention from the core issue with specious arguments, Pravin Togadia, President of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, one of the largest affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, said in speeches in Uttar Pradesh that his organisation would raise, train and equip an army of gau rakshaks. This shows the VHP is preparing for more violent interventions.

The contrary messages emerging from the government and the VHP appear to be part of a well-thought-out strategy. The Indian Express quoted Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles, as saying in an interview it was all based on doublespeak. “There is an occasional, pious public message to say the authorities disapprove of certain actions, but then there is the dog-whistle by which people are also being relayed the opposite of what the official message is,” he said. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 25, 2017. 

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