How Modi reached out to Dalits without alienating gau rakshaks

Even while attacking cow vigilantism, PM displayed his latent communal perspective.

 |  6-minute read |   08-08-2016
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To match the theme of the Olympics, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also taken shots in two rounds of rapid fire. But has this pleased either the jury or the audience? Or worse, has he shot himself in the foot?

Shortly before - without any causative question - Modi railed against anti-social elements masquerading as gau rakshaks, he was mouthing hypercriticism on (a section) of the media for holding him responsible for every unfortunate occurrence.

Also read: Dalit anger could torpedo three states for Modi-Shah

He was on his favourite territory: playing victim. He is a master in projecting himself as the unparalleled do-gooder negatively portrayed by "sikular" media, hand-in-glove with opponents. But even while attacking cow vigilantism, he displayed his latent communal perspective.


Among the various points made on Sunday, Modi chose to deliver a short lecture on medieval military tactics. He said: "In earlier time, Badshahs and Rajas fought wars against each other. Badshahs placed cows in front of their armies and as a result Rajas were not able to kill them and consequently lost battles. That's how Badshahs defeated Rajas."

In 2014, Modi portrayed the UPA government as Dilli ki Sultanat and Rahul Gandhi as Shehzada - both phrases have an Islamic connotation (and use Urdu words). Similarly, saying Badshahs used cows as protective cover for invading armies imputes that Muslim kings used such tactics and Hindu rulers chose to lose battles when faced with the alternative of killing cows. How ingenuous!

Also read: Dalits are seething in Modi's Gujarat and it will hurt BJP during polls

Further ahead, Modi said that if the state government investigated the background of anti-social elements masquerading as gau rakshaks, nearly 70-80 percent of them will turn out to be history-sheeters. He remains quiet about the others. Who are they? What are their links to his party or its affiliates? Silence. But this gets lost in the excitement of what he said. At least he has spoken at long last. Thank gau mata for small mercies!

Modi's statement on cow vigilantism has to be seen in conjunction with the formal declaration of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh general secretary, Bhaiyyaji Joshi. His statement, like Modi's, has two components: firstly, and this has made headlines, he says certain anti-social groups, in few stray incidents, have taken law into their hands in the name of gau raksha and vitiated social harmony.

Both Modi and Joshi do not criticise gau raksha per se. The former, in fact, mentions gau sewaks as being different from gau bhakts of today. Joshi too, in his statement, recalls that service and devotion to the cow has been an integral part of the Hindu society and other communities.

Also read: Why I'm not convinced with what Modi said about Gau Rakshaks

In today's vitiated atmosphere, if there was genuine concern, then it would have been politically correct to advise people to display gau bhakti indoors and let the police do their work.

The second shot in Modi's rapid fire round was to redeem his party's and his own anti-Dalit image. Readers must listen to that portion of the speech and carefully judge what was most palpable - anger or desperation. The BJP's Dalit outreach programme has gone off-track since January when Rohith Vemula's suicide was mishandled.

While information began pouring in about how ABVP - the students' affiliate of the RSS - had attacked Dalit students and their radical politics, the HRD ministry - led by Smriti Irani - challenged his Dalit identity by claiming that being an adopted child, Rohith was not in fact a Dalit. For Dalits, nothing is more sacrosanct than identity and security. Take away either, you will turn a friend into foe. Not that Dalits were ever friends of the BJP.

Also read: JP has gifted Mayawati a cow to milk ahead of UP polls

It is only in 2014 that a section of the community decided to go with the party, just the way they voted for other national parties previously in the hope of benefiting from development programmes.

Yet, Modi's two statements are part of an attempt in the Sangh Parivar to break from the savarn or upper caste mentality that grips the party. Long time Nagpur-based independent RSS watcher, Dilip Deodhar says the BJP had earlier tried to distance itself from leaders making provocative statements and pointed to Amit Shah's assertion, attacking those who eulogised Nathuram Godse, Mahatma Gandhi's assassin.

"Whether it is the matter of gau raksha, attacks on Dalits or other controversial issues, the Sangh Parivar must rid itself of the Savarkar legacy," he says, adding that this, however, is not a very easy task given Savarkar's iconic status.

Also read: Why Gandhi drew a parallel between Gau Rakshaks and cow killers

Modi's statement and the rare official release on behalf of Joshi is evidence that "damage control is being attempted," says Sanjeev Kelkar, the Pune-based doctor who wrote the noted book, The Lost Years of RSS. He, however, is not very sure if the attempts would be a success because, in 2014, the Sangh leadership frittered away the chance of being able to cement the support of new social groups who voted for the BJP.

The reaction of the so-called fringe forces is evidence of Modi's predicament. Whether BJP leaders acknowledge it or not, the truth is that the astonishing margin of victory in 2014 was possible not only because new social groups extended support after being attracted by Modi's development spiel.

A major reason behind Modi's stupendous win was because precisely these "anti-social forces" created the hawa or the mood for the BJP's victory.

Naturally, once the party came to power, these groups want their pound of flesh and this happens to be deposited on the bodies of Dalits and minorities.

In private, senior BJP leaders often confided that the party's biggest handicap currently is that it still has an upper caste, anti-poor image and, unless the sarvahara begin considering the BJP as their own, the party will keep facing hurdles like electoral routs like in Bihar and Delhi and issues like Una.

Modi and Joshi cannot continue to blame a handful of outside forces, but need to introspect the reasons for the continued existence (and support) of the likes of Dayashankar Singh within the party.

But then, the rot is at the top as the nuanced delineation between war strategies of Badshahs and Rajas demonstrated.


Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay @nilanjanudwin

Writer and journalist based in Delhi. His most recent books are Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984 and Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times.

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