He had been widely criticised for not speaking up on the spate of hate crimes and lynchings of Muslims and Dalits that has gripped the country. He tweeted on tragedies in foreign shores, while keeping a studied silence on the murders in his home country in the name of the cow.
Finally, a day after the #NotInMyName protests rocked 11 cities all over the country and had solidarity meets in London, Paris and other global cities, after the peaceful protests made international headlines and became the biggest global news from India, the prime minister has at last spoken.
At an address to celebrate the centenary of the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked Mahatma Gandhi to say that he’s pained by the killings in the name of the cow and cow worship.
Killing people in the name of Gau Bhakti is not acceptable. This is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve: PM @narendramodi— PMO India (@PMOIndia) June 29, 2017
Gujarat: PM Narendra Modi visits Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad pic.twitter.com/SfpEeE9Cle— ANI (@ANI_news) June 29, 2017
In a significant move that comes a day after the pan-India protests, PM Modi opened his mouth on the spate of lynchings, that too from his home turf Gujarat.
Today I want to say a few words and express sadness on some of the things going on: PM @narendramodi— PMO India (@PMOIndia) June 29, 2017
We are a land of non violence. We are the land of Mahatma Gandhi. Why do we forget that: PM @narendramodi— PMO India (@PMOIndia) June 29, 2017
No one spoke about protecting cows more than Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave. Yes. It should be done: PM @narendramodi— PMO India (@PMOIndia) June 29, 2017
No person in this nation has the right to take the law in his or her own hands in this country: PM @narendramodi— PMO India (@PMOIndia) June 29, 2017
Violence never has and never will solve any problem: PM @narendramodi— PMO India (@PMOIndia) June 29, 2017
It is crucial that the prime minister has spoken, even though he hasn’t mentioned any of the victims by their names, victims who happen mostly to come from minority and marginalized backgrounds. Muslims, Dalits, Sikhs have faced lynchings in various parts of the country, whether they were Akhlaq in 2015 or Junaid in 2017.
While many are seeing in the words of the prime minister, a government rattled and shaken up enough for the PM to condemn it, others are seeing in this the efficacy of democratic protests, in which citizens gather and demand action from the state hell bent on robbing them of their rights.
There have been criticisms that have said that calling India “Lynchistan” now is selective as lynchings have happened before with impunity.
Some tried saying that the #NotInMyName protests were about the privileged liberals washing their hands of the responsibility, or indulging in self-congratulations, talking to each other in an echo chamber of similar thoughts on secularism and democratic rights.
I've deleted this tweet because many insist this wasn't true. I wasn't there myself, and my tweet was based on... pic.twitter.com/SbQPlal85C— Shivam Vij (@DilliDurAst) June 28, 2017
However, the protests seemed to have elicited a tangential, possibly weak condemnation from the prime minister. That’s certainly some measure of success, but then will it be enough?
If you think that the protests didn't lead to this (weak, late) condemnation, I have a "flopshow" to sell you.— Omair Ahmad (@OmairTAhmad) June 29, 2017
This is welcome. Shd be followed by a clear advisory from MHA to all states & status reports sought from all states which recorded lynchings https://t.co/ijaYFh0F00— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) June 29, 2017
So lynchings with false accusations of beef will now stop, as they did when Pradhan Mantri spoke about this last time? https://t.co/hVGIdaHAPh— Shivam Vij (@DilliDurAst) June 29, 2017
Many were exasperated at PM Modi’s deafening and rude silence at the lynchings, and many took it as it being part of a script in which the state provides covert and overt nod to the vigilantes carrying out the ideological violence in national interest.
The cow murders, the regime of paranoia and suspicion all around, the reports on how Muslims are afraid to look Muslim because that might mean becoming the next target of a mob lynching, the muted Eid celebrations everywhere in the country, the second thoughts about consuming meat, any meat and not beef – all that and more had created a sense of utter desperation and anger among large sections of the society.
The #NotInMyName protests were a culmination of that pent up rage of the ordinary citizens pushed to a corner, hapless at seeing their friends and neighbours become victims of mob violence. That the PM has been forced to speak on the issue the very next day is a telling sign of the importance of democratic protests to demand justice.
But what will it come to? Can the PM ensure that the lynchings stop? Will there be a temporary lull after they start off again, in a new avatar of ideological monstrosity? After all, hadn’t the PM mentioned the Dadri episode in a tangential manner without naming Akhlaq, and hadn’t he condemned cow vigilantism last year as well at the Digital India townhall meet?
6/ This is plausible deniability 101: offer tacit encouragement for gaurakahaks to lynch, reap cowbelt votes. Urban Bhakts ask innocently:— The Last Caveman (@CarDroidusMax) June 26, 2017
As many have pointed out, the “plausible deniability 101” strategy isn’t working anymore, and everyone can see through it, even those who, until yesterday, were pointing out how the current spate of lynchings aren’t unsual or part of a larger ideology-driven pattern, but general brawls in a communally polarised country.
The blame-game was to peg this on sections of the media that were, in fact, reporting on the violence. It was surreal to see some eminent journalists even hurl data and scream “selective outrage”, even as everyone else was trying to register their acute discomfort with the lynchings.
However, with the PM expressing “pain” and “sadness” at the lynchings, we need to ask what happens now? Will he ask the home ministry to take firm action against the perpetrators? Though arrests have happened in most cases, will there be an awareness that there wouldn’t be any getting away with murder if that is done in the name of the cow?
Or, what about PM Modi following those on Twitter who abuse, ask for violence and spew communal venom online? Will he unfollow them and condemn those who incite violence on social media, propagate fake news, spread ideological drivel at the behest of the IT cell of the ruling regime, that maintains a paid army to attack those who oppose or question the government?
As reports point out, there’s a disconnect with the Sangh Parivar and those in charge of what entails the cow politics, Mahatma Gandhi and non-violence in the new scheme of things. With the Sangh attempting to whitewash history, removing the bloodstains of Gandhi’s murder by elevating Nathuram Godse, or removing any mention of him even in the Gandhi museum – the country’s largest dedicated to the Father of the Nation, can we expect any concrete action against those perpetrating violence?
This is exactly how the Sangh wants to erase our history & white wash its sins such as Gandhi's assassination pic.twitter.com/dw3ircclCC— Swati Chaturvedi (@bainjal) June 29, 2017
What action can we expect from the MHA and the PMO against the Sadhvis who declare that beef-eaters should be hanged, or those questioning the government should go to Pakistan? What about the BJP/RSS’ love-hate relation with Gandhi himself, who is espoused and disavowed in equal measure whenever the opportunity strikes? The lynchings are not the cause but a symptom of a much larger and deeper malaise in the fabric of the nation.
If majoritarianism isn’t discouraged and the impunity by the dint of one’s religion isn’t made unacceptable, if Union ministers aren’t sacked for wrapping lynch-mob murderers in the tricolour, then the condemnation from the PM sounds like one more hollow attempt at sounding good, irrespective of what comes next.