Modi Says “Shoot”! But Whom?


Narendra Modi’s high octane poll campaign was littered with the promise of Development, with a capital D. Big business, in India and abroad, had bought his promise too. And now, after a little more than 2 years old premiership, the developments under his watch have rattled most of them. The ‘developments’ were not the “development” they were looking for. Further, the consequences of developments under Modi were harming their prospects.

The growth he had promised was nowhere to be seen in economy. The only thing that had really grown under him was violence- be it large scale ones for quotas that crippled Haryana and Gujarat for weeks or its MSME version- Micro, Small and Medium level violence committed by self-appointed and regime supported cow vigilantes running amok and bleeding everyone in their way- from farmers to people traditionally dependent on skinning dead cattle and dealing in hides.

Leather industry was an obvious loser with almost 10% decline in exports in 2015 as compared to 2014. Yet, it was not the only one. For instance, cricket, the religion that unites Indians, was an unlikely victim with balls costs soaring multiple times. They had to, as the best balls are made of cow skin sheets and they were nowhere to be found in Modi’s India. The industry, overall, was worried and it showed in its clarion calls.

Others were worried about violence too- albeit more over its social costs than economic ones. The media was one of them, of course with the notable exception of most of Indian electronic media. The New York Times summed up the anger in its editorial that slammed PM Modi’s ‘shameful silence on cow vigilantes’. The ever so conscious of his image abroad PM was expected to take note, and that he did the day after, fittingly in an event mimicking ‘Townhall’ addresses of President Obama.

The outburst against Gau Rakshaks (cow protectors) was stunning to say the least, more so from someone who had made his political career attending cow protection events and slamming an imaginary “pink revolution” based on cow slaughter. Yes, imaginary, as the statistics showed that even as Modi talked about large scale cow slaughter, the population of cows in India grew by more than 6%. The outburst was even more spectacular in its sustainability, PM Modi slammed the cow vigilantes again in less than 24 hours, this time in a meeting with Bhartiya Janata Party members in Telangana.

Unfortunately, a closer look at, or listening to, the outburst must have sent shivers down the spine of those who believe in democracy and rule of law and all that both these terms entail. In the townhall meeting at Delhi, named MyGov anniversary meeting, Modi expressed deep anguish at cow vigilantes and termed 80 percent of them as rank anti socials. He accused them of wearing the garb of cow protectionism to hide their criminal activities.

He went a little further a day later, in Telangana meeting, and pleaded for stopping the violence against his “Dalit Bretheren” at once! Here is what he said exactly:

“I would like to tell these people that if you have any problem, if you have to attack, attack me. Stop attacking my Dalit brethren. If you have to shoot, shoot me, but not my Dalit brothers. This game should stop”.

Nothing wrong in the statement itself, unless one notices the spectacular omission. The omission of Muslims, the prime target of the violence by the cow vigilantes till the focus shifted towards Dalits! Yes, he had not even bothered to mention the need of stopping the cow vigilante violence against Muslims, forget expressing any anguish for them!

Not that he could be unaware of the facts. He had to break his silence on Dadri where a mob had lynched a man over suspicion of beef consumption. The news of similar attacks in Pratapgarh, Rajasthan, lynching and hanging of two Muslims, one a minor in Latehar, Jharkhand, killing of another in Nahan, Himachal Pradesh and recent attack on Muslim women in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh were all over the place.

Why, then, PM Modi singled out his ‘Dalit Brethren’ while leaving Muslims, equal citizens of India out completely? The only possible explanation for the bizarre, and unbecoming of the leader of the country, omission can be an attempt to create a rift between Dalits and Muslims- tied together both by economics of leather and attacks by vigilantes. Both the communities have come together strongly in the recent past to take on the cow vigilantes and their political handlers, and it must have rung alarm bells among PM’s right wing Hindutva party. Howsoever divisive his past could be, a PM doing this is plain shocking and ominous for the Republic.

Sadly, the problem with his outburst doesn’t stop at polarizing. It rather went several notches up with his melodramatic, almost Bollywoodish call of ‘come and shoot me, but not my Dalit Brothers’. Was that some sort of admission that law enforcement agencies of India cannot take on these outlaw vigilante groups? Or it was a backhand message to them to read through what he omitted and not take his outburst seriously? It is not every day that a PM of a country aspiring to be a superpower pleads to criminals for attacking him and sparing his brothers!

This also exposes the final chink hidden in the armor of this supposedly anguished outburst. It was not really an outburst- it was rather a 20 to 30 percent controlled shrewd political statement. PM Modi did not stop at asking for identifying and cracking down on 70 to 80 percent criminals among the ranks of cow vigilantes. He also called for identifying the real ones and respecting and supporting them. In plain words that is nothing but legitimizing and institutionalizing vigilantism and that’s dangerous for a democratic country that operates by rule of law. Vigilantism is illegal in any form in a country that follows rule of law. All the grievances in such a country should be channeled by public institutions of justice and law enforcement not by vigilantes. Even if they are, as PM insinuated, true cow worshipers.

Looking at it whichever way, the outburst doesn’t augur well for our beloved country.

Samar is Programme Coordinator – Right to Food Programme Asian Legal Resource Centre / Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

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