Why I'm not convinced with what Modi said about gau rakshaks

Perhaps Indian PM should read the Constitution again.

 |  4-minute read |   07-08-2016
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While speaking on the final night of the Democratic National Convention last week, Khizr Khan, the father of an American Muslim army captain who was killed in action in Iraq in 2006, asked Donald Trump: "Have you even read the US Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy."

These two lines have become the most powerful anti-Trump message Democrats could manage to pose in their convention.

There is much in common between the Republican Party's presidential candidate Trump and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and much has been written about it.

Both Modi and Trump are theatrical and self-admiring. Both are xenophobic and crude while addressing the public and use it to the hilt to enthuse their core political base.

However, while Trump is still competing with Hillary Clinton in the election, Modi has already become the elected leader of India and the PM for five years since May 2014.

Modi, while answering his critics, has often said the Constitution of India is the real holy book of his government.

Also read: Gau rakshaks are anti-Dalit, BJP must worry

In November 2015, he told Parliament that, in response to the criticism his government was drawing from writers, activists and artists, including actor Aamir Khan, for the growing intolerance in the country.

Modi repeated the same line in his address to a joint meeting of the US Congress in June this year. His remarks came against the backdrop of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom's annual report criticising India's deteriorating religious freedom in 2015.

Modi came to power in May 2014 and since then, his Sangh Parivar has been blatantly trying to impose Hindutva ideology on the country, clearly mocking the Constitution which declares India a secular state.

It started with attacks on places of worship of the minorities, then promoting the large-scale Ghar Wapsi, and the movement against the so-called Love Jihad. Now, vigilantism of gau rakshaks has spread terror.

cow-embed_080716124606.jpg Vigilantism of gau rakshaks has spread terror.

The victims of this increasing cow vigilantism by assaulters belonging mostly to politically influential Hindu upper castes, have been mostly Dalits and Muslims.

Since the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, the savagery of these vigilante groups on Muslims and Dalits has taken place primarily in BJP-ruled states: in Daltonganj in Jharkhand, Una in Gujarat, Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, Sonepat in Haryana and Chittorgarh in Rajasthan. In the case of the Dadri lynching, BJP leaders apparently tried to wash the incident off their hands by putting blame on the Samajwadi Party-led government in UP.

Modi kept his silence on all incidents, till his Barack Obama-style town hall meeting on Saturday, when he said he was angry because some people had made a business in the name of cow protection.

It is another matter that Modi himself has earlier shown how to use the cow protection issue for self-aggrandisement.

Before the 2014 elections, he had made cow protection a key theme of his campaign. He went on criticising the Congress-led government's "pink revolution", referring to the flourishing beef industry in the country, but knowing well that the meat in question was not cow but buffalo meat.

The pink revolution was well within the ambit of the Constitution, but that was apparently not Modi's concern.

Modi and his party are obsessed with cows and have used the cow issue repeatedly to polarise Indian voters and enthuse their core support base.

During last year's election in Bihar, the BJP pushed cow protection to the center of its campaign. The gravitas of the Prime Minister's chair did not restrict Modi from blatantly polarising the electorate on this sensitive issue.

The growing Dalit protest in his own backyard of Gujarat seems to now have forced the PM from speaking up against the gau rakshaks. However, his statements on such critical issues raise more questions than bring solace to citizens.

Also read: Was Modi's message to gau rakshaks stern or hollow?

If one hears his speech, the PM seems to not be denouncing "true gau rakshaks" but only the "fake" ones who are making profit out of it.

So, if any vigilante group is not after economic gain, but is taking the law into its own hands thanks to religious beliefs or political ideology, Prime Minister Modi apparently does not see it as a problem.

Under which Indian Constitution do private citizens enjoy the right to interpret the law on their own and deliver their version of justice?

Usage of the term "rakshak" or "protector" by any civilian group goes against the spirit of the Constitution. Providing protection is the prerogative of the Indian state only, not of any vigilante group.

Modi as prime minister of India should have come out with an unambiguous statement against any group, fake or not, engaged in cow protection issues, and should have advised states to take strong action against such groups.

But all he has ended up doing is profiling such groups not on the basis of their actions but on their intentions.

As the prime minister, Modi needs to be careful that his words do not directly or indirectly pit one community against another.

Writer

Ashok Swain Ashok Swain @ashoswai

The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.

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