Is this PM Modi’s ‘Anna Hazare’ Moment?
- The #NotInMyName protests against lynchings seem to have rung alarm bells in the power corridors
- Modi’s statement against cow vigilantes indicates that his government does not want a repeat of the Anna Hazare protests
- Modi’s rap is a tacit admission that the polarisation game may have gone too far
- But he also has to keep his Hindutva vote-bank satisfied and supportive till the 2019 elections
It can’t be mere coincidence that Narendra Modi broke his silence on the mob lynchings of Muslims by self-styled gau rakshaks just a day after citizens across 11 cities gathered for a non-political #NotInMyName silent protest.
Mock the protest as much as you want: selective outrage, liberals falling into the Hindutva trap, elitist, celebrity-driven – whatever. But when thousands of young and middle-aged people from all walks of life unite in anguish to push back, all because of a WhatsApp message that went viral, it is bound to ring alarm bells in the power corridors.
Flashback to Anna Hazare 2011
Flashback to 2011, etched in recent memory as the year of the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement.
What began as a nondescript citizens’ stir with a gummy old man from Maharashtra – who nobody had heard of – and a motley group of people summoned over social media soon spiraled into a popular countrywide movement that rocked the Manmohan Singh government and paved the way for the Congress’ downfall.
No two situations are the same. Nor does history necessarily repeat itself. But the Modi government wasn’t taking chances, clearly.
From Deafening Silence to a Flurry of Condemnations
In the beginning, there was deafening silence even as horrific details emerged of the brutal public murder of 15-year-old Junaid Khan in a train compartment the day before Eid.
Then came a flurry of statements going up the power hierarchy in direct proportion to the surge in popular support for the #NotInMyName protest call given by two filmmakers – Saba Dewan and Rahul Roy.
The first to speak was Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar who expressed regret and promised quick police action. (The incident occurred near Ballabgarh in Haryana.) Then came Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s statement condemning lynchings in general and reminding us that Prime Minister Modi had also ticked off gau rakshak vigilantes last year.
But WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms kept buzzing about #NotInMyName.
On the morning of the protest, senior minister and a trusted PMO aide Venkaiah Naidu jumped in. Surprisingly, he did not obfuscate in condemning the killing. For the first time since mob lynchings by gau rakshaks set a new normal in our social paradigm, Naidu regretted the specific incident and mentioned the victim’s name.
Others like Mohammad Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan and assorted truck drivers and innocent cattle traders killed by vigilante mobs over the past two years were never accorded the dignity of acknowledgement by the powers-that-be.
In fact, some ministers and senior BJP leaders went out of their way to justify Akhlaq’s killing. The man was lynched to death in his own home by a mob which accused him of stocking beef in his refrigerator.
Finally, the PM Has Spoken Up
And now we’ve reached the top of the power pyramid. The PM himself has spoken up. And he has done so after thousands voluntarily braved the rain on Wednesday to reclaim their idea of India as a nation united in diversity and to demand the rule of law to live in peace without fear.
Perhaps, with Wednesday (the day when the protest took place) in mind, he lashed out strongly at vigilantes in a speech dripping with emotion and sentiment.
“No person in this nation has the right to take the law in his or her own hands,’’ he admonished. He went on to add:
Non-violence is our way of living and killing human beings in the name of gau bhakti (reverence for cows) is unacceptableNarendra Modi
The Haryana Police too has acted with unusual alacrity. After claiming all eyewitnesses had clammed up and refused to talk, police suddenly arrested four persons in one day for instigating the lynching of Junaid and his two brothers.
But Is It Too Little, Too Late?
The question now arises whether this is too little, too late. And whether Modi’s rap will work at all.
It’s not that Modi hasn’t lashed out at cow vigilantes before. Last August, at his first Obama-style Town Hall meet, he stirred a hornet’s nest among fellow Sanghis by describing these vigilantes as “anti-social elements hiding behind the mask of gau rakshaks’’.
He even put a figure to it. He said “70-80 percent” of them are “those who indulge in anti-social activities and try to hide their sins by pretending to be gau rakshaks’’.
There was an immediate outcry from Sangh circles which have made cow protection their holy grail.
But for a while, the lynchings stopped, only to be renewed with vengeance after the BJP’s stunning victory in the UP assembly polls earlier this year.
Why, in just the past week, three incidents have taken place – one of them within hours of the PM’s admonishment?
The first was the Junaid case. The other two were reported from different villages in Jharkhand. In one case, a mob of over 1,000 people were ready to lynch a Muslim, whose cow had died of natural causes. The carcass lay outside as the mob gathered. Police managed to save the man, but his house was burnt down by the crowd.
The second incident took place soon after Modi delivered his rap to gau rakshaks. A Muslim man was lynched to death for supposedly carrying beef in his Maruti van.
Modi’s Rise Emboldening the Practitioners of Aggressive Hindutva
IndiaSpend has calculated, based on media reports, that 96.8 percent of cow-related violence occurred after the Modi government assumed office in 2014.
Join the dots and the connection is obvious. Modi’s rise has emboldened the practitioners of aggressive Hindutva and they are increasingly resorting to violence and murder in pursuit of their sectarian agenda.
Modi’s intervention is a tacit admission that the polarisation game may have gone too far.
Not only are ordinary citizens upset enough to come out on the streets to protest, there is increasing international criticism of the medieval turn to the Indian polity and the rise of anarchy as the social fabric is ripped apart by communal and caste tensions.
Modi understands that he needs to push the brakes to prevent the descent into social chaos, otherwise it will destroy his economic and development agenda.
At the same time, he has to keep his Hindutva vote-bank satisfied and supportive till the all-important general election in 2019. Can he walk this tightrope without falling?
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)