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Modi’s rap at cow vigilantes – Why PM’s delayed intervention is only a job half-done

NEW DELHI,ARGHYA ROY CHOWDHURY : One of the hallmarks of Narendra Modi’s communication modus operandi is that he believes in setting the agenda and terms of conversation. Hence for all the talk of open culture in communication, the PM has shied away from open media interactions and the few interviews he has given, were carefully stage-managed. In all, rarely has Modi got out of his comfort zone in his two and half years reign as PM. This fact makes his intervention to give a strong message against cow vigilantes or ‘gau rakshaks’ all the more significant. Modi ran the risk of antagonising some of his core supporters, but he went full throttle nonetheless, with a larger equation in mind.

The PM’s strong condemnation of cow vigilantism during the Townhall event on Saturday came near the fag end of his 90-minute speech. But if one revisits the speech, it was all building up to that moment. He spoke about accountability in governance and lamented how the PM is blamed for any incident in any nook and corner of the country. He said that may be good politically or for garnering TRP, but affects the work of the Prime Minister. Indeed from Dadri to Una, a large section of the media had cornered BJP for its seemingly tacit support to cow vigilantes and questioned the PM’s silence. Modi in a way has also tried to answer those critics. But the timing of his rebuke merits further discussion.

The PM in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election alleged that UPA was indulging in a ‘Pink Revolution’ alluding to the thriving beef import business. The issue was again brought out of the closet just before the Bihar elections, as a desperate last minute tactic. In the last two years, many of the BJP-led state governments like Maharashtra and Haryana have tightened cow slaughter laws. The causality of such decisions with cow vigilantes running amok can’t be ignored. Many of the vigilantes have sanctions from the Sangh ecosystem. But the ‘enthusiasm’ has now spilled over to a dangerous level where it is hurting the BJP and RSS’ Dalit outreach program. Modi’s intervention is to draw a red-line and give a message to his party that such acts of hooliganism needs to be dealt with strongly.

Dalits, like many of the minority communities, often vote in block and it has been a long standing goal of the Sangh Parivar to unite the Hindu votebank getting the backward caste in its fold. On the other side of the political spectrum, efforts have been on to forge an alliance of Dalits and minorities. Opposition to BJP have sought to paint it as an anti- Dalit party, dominated by the upper castes. The entire backlash post Rohith Vemula’s death and now the Una incident has helped those who seek to dub BJP as a casteist party. Modi’s outreach is essentially to buttress them. In poll-bound states like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, BJP needs the vote of the Dalits to sail through. Merely upper class consolidation of votes will not be enough. The saffron party in 2014 managed to seal the deal by its overarching promise of acche din. It was a message that cut through class and caste barriers and brought votes from across the spectrum towards BJP. But with no Modi wave to bank on in the state elections, the party needs to get back to the brick and mortar policy of gaining votes and Modi’s comments especially seeks to do so. The Dalit consolidation even in a very nascent stage is ringing alarm bells in the BJP headquarters. The Dalit-upper caste peace is an essentially fragile one and gau rakshaks ran the risk of completely destroying it. And BJP as a party in power may face the maximum brunt of it. That’s currently the biggest worry for Narendra Modi. In Telengana on Sunday, PM slightly calibrated his message saying fake gau-rakshaks should be isolated and strong action should be taken against them. It was a fine balancing act by PM to highlight that he is not against cow-protectionism but is averse to cow-vigilantism.

Being branded as anti-minority doesn’t affect BJP politically (in fact it may help in vote consolidation) like being anti-Dalit does. The difference in their reaction to Dadri and Una is a classic example of that. But the PM’s intervention will only be a job half-done if the respective state governments don’t show spine to crack down on cow vigilantes. BJP, which used the beef ban and entire gau raksha issue as a plank for peddling soft Hindutva, is seeking to reboot its strategy as it has started to hurt them politically. Cows may be sacrosanct, but winning elections is more important as Anandiben Patel found out. The question is whether the PM reacted too late. Is the genie already out of the bottle? Can the cow vigilantes be brought to book, controlled and neutered? The answer may decide BJP’s electoral future.