Modi at the townhall-style event in New Delhi. (PTI)
New Delhi, Aug. 6: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said he was "very angry" with criminals in bovine protectors' clothing, equated them with "badshahs" who cunningly hid behind cows to tie the hands of "rajas" in the battlefield and asked state governments to draw up dossiers on them.
The Prime Minister spoke nearly a year after a man was lynched near Delhi on the mere suspicion of having consumed beef and several weeks after four Dalits were brutally flogged by so-called cow protectors in Gujarat. The Prime Minister did not make any specific reference to either atrocity.
Modi's statement came in the middle of a gathering backlash among Dalits towards the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, both of which are headed to polls next year.
Dalit activists and relatives of those who were brutalised in Una expressed disappointment and described the Prime Minister's statement as "lip service".
The Prime Minister was speaking at a townhall-style event during which he answered questions from members of civil society to mark two years of the launch of MyGov portal, the government's citizen engagement platform. The session was broadcast live and the participants were chosen from the country and abroad.
The reference to cow worshippers did not come in response to a direct question.
Chhavi Yadav, a young architect from Noida, asked Modi to share his experiences as a "volunteer" (in the RSS).
The Prime Minister said: "These days, some persons have set up shops in the name of cow protection. I feel very angry. There are gau bhakts (cow worshippers) and gau sevaks (cow servers) and they are different. If we go back to history, whenever the rajas fought the badshahs (Islamic rulers), the badshahs cunningly placed cows at the head of their troops. That put the rajas in a quandary because there was no way they would kill the cows. That's how they lost the battles.
"Now, there are people who indulge in anti-social and criminal activities at night and disguise themselves as cow protectors by day. I appeal to the state governments to ferret out the history of such people and prepare dossiers on them because 70 to 80 per cent of them are anti-social elements."
The Telegraph had published a report on July 31 saying that petty thugs running bootlegging and extortion rackets were behind the flogging of the Dalits in Gujarat's Una. But the report also had quoted sources as saying these thugs enjoyed political protection and police were reluctant to act in the absence of unequivocal condemnation by the executive leadership.
Today, the Prime Minister said a "more genuine way" of serving cows was to see that they did not consume plastic and die of asphyxiation. "Most cows do not die because they are slaughtered but because they eat plastic. In Gujarat, I had set up cattle health camps where the animals were operated. Once I witnessed that more than two buckets of plastic were emptied out of the stomach of a cow," he said.
Modi said "true" volunteerism or social service was "not meant to oppress and harass others". "It is done in a spirit of compassion and sacrifice," he said.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad national secretary and spokesperson, Surendra Jain, responded to Modi's comments: "We have no objections to what he spoke although the percentage of anti-social elements he mentioned is disputable. But let me assert that gau raksha is integral to Hinduism. Let the state governments ban plastic. They lack the competence and will to do it."
Modi also referred to Bhimrao Ambedkar.
"Social service is embedded in our legacy, there is no need to teach anyone to do it. These days, the problem is those wanting to serve society always ask, but what is in it for me? I want to take the example of Babasaheb Ambedkar. He was highly educated and yet humiliated in India for being a Dalit. He gained everything abroad, education, prestige, respect. Yet, he chose to return to India, knowing well he would be humiliated but that was because of his spirit of service to society and the nation," said Modi.
He deftly balanced his praise of Ambedkar by invoking Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the founder-president of the Hindu Mahasabha. Educated in England, Savarkar returned to India where he was arrested and incarcerated in Andaman's Cellular Jail for organising an armed revolt against the Morley-Minto reforms of 1909.
The first question was lobbed by P.S. Panwar of Karnal who asked whether good governance made for bad politics.
The Prime Minister said: "It is unfortunate that in India some opinion-makers hold the PM accountable for anything that happens at the panchayat, greater panchayat, the zilla parishad and the city council. The PM has to answer for anything. This is politically acceptable, the TRPs too soar if the PM is attacked. But good governance is something where the person in question has to account for his performance."
He concluded the engagement by hailing the use of technology and digitalisation, if only because these tools kept politicians like him on their toes.
"Time was when a Prime Minister spoke and left. No longer. Within minutes, my speeches are analysed by social media. I am reminded that what you said in your speech today was not what you did 10 years earlier. I welcome such criticism. But there are those who can't countenance anything negative said about them, they fall ill. All of us should learn from our flaws and technology is a way of learning. It is empowerment," Modi said.