Just after a day of the 'Not in my name' protests against killing of Muslims by mobs as many as 10 cities across India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his silence, saying killing in the name of cow is not unacceptable and one should not forget that India is a land of non-violence and Mahatma Gandhi.
Modi gave what India's media found to be a stern message from the Mahatma's Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad in his home state Gujarat. It is encouraging that Modi ultimately spoke on a snowballing crisis which has all the potential to disrupt India's harmony but given the state where he chose to address the issue from, one can't help but ask: Is it a poll gimmick? The PM also kicked off the BJP's campaign for the state election in Rajkot on Thursday, June 29.
Gujarat is set to go to Assembly polls later this year and despite the fact that Modi had won the state three consecutive times between 2002 and 2012, the battle in Gujarat is seen as a different ball-game altogether this time, thanks to a number of factors, and nothing would have helped Modi more than assuming the role of a statesman on its soil to calm hurt feelings. The shrewd politician in the man also made the Mahatma a part of his speech to make the appeal all the more universal. Non-violence: a word which never loses its edge despite repeated use, isn't it?
Modi had a suitable topic to speak on to show his statesmanship
Modi's remark against cow vigilantism is significant for the Gujarat elections. For, it was in the same state where Dalits were flogged by upper-caste vigilantes last year for skinning a dead cow.
Moreover, with the traditional Patidar voters feeling upset with the BJP, which is in power in the state for two decades now, the saffron party has to rethink its electoral equations and is trying to win over the minority sections who are also finding the Congress's apathetic stance towards them disappointing. Though Modi's Gujarat has been known to be one where the minority community faces ghettoisation, the upcoming Assembly polls could see a complete departure from the practice followed so far.
Modi has spoken against cow vigilantism earlier as well but how much has changed?
By lashing out at the cow vigilantes who are trying to facilitate the saffron project thinking there is no stopping for them in the Modi era, the prime minister has repeated his August 2016 act of hitting out at the 'gau rakshaks' while addressing a packed house in New Delhi soon after the Dalits were flagged in Gujarat. He had even asked the perpetrators to target him instead of the Dalits and the observers felt it was a clear strategy of reaching out to the constituency which can spell trouble for the BJP in the upcoming election.
Also, Modi had made an indirect mention of Mohammad Akhlaq's lynching in Dadri, UP, while addressing a rally in Bihar ahead of the Assembly election there in October 2015. It was clearly an election stance rather than a heart-felt condolence. Nothing had changed on the ground despite his appeal to the Hindus and Muslims to fight together against poverty and not each other.
Will his message from Ahmedabad make any difference apart from trying to repair the BJP's dented political prospects in Gujarat?