[Representational Image]Reuters

"The third world war will start over a cow," believes Mahamandleshwar Swami Akhileshwaranand Giri. The former VHP leader said that if the cow, which is a source of livelihood for many, is adversely affected, resentment between different groups will ignite war.

"The cow has always been a source of contention. There are references in mythology and the first war of independence in 1857 began over the cow… It's natural for gau rakshaks to get angry when they see dead or injured cows packed in vehicles because it's an emotive issue for them," Giri, an ex-chairman of executive council of the Madhya Pradesh Gaupalan Evam Pashudhan Samvardhan Board, was quoted by ANI as saying.

Swami Giri who received the title of Mahamandleshwar of Niranjani Akhara in March 2010 has been associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and was said to be involved in 'reconversion' of Christians to Hinduism in MP and Chhattisgarh in the past.

"They should not take the law into their own hands and should wait for the police to come once they stop such vehicles. When all states pass stricter anti-cow slaughter laws, smuggling of cattle through state borders will become impossible," the 61-year-old swami added, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned against self-styled cow vigilantes spreading distrust in society. 

"Fake gau rakshaks have nothing to do with cows. They want to create tension in society. If you go through their antecedents, you will find 80 percent of Gau Raksha Dal have a criminal background," Modi had said at a 'town hall meeting' to celebrate the second anniversary of

Right wing groups have hit back at Modi for his comments on cow vigilantism. Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha (ABHM) national president Chandraprakash Kaushik said that their organisation is considering serving the Prime Minister a legal notice.

A Gau Raksha Dal (cow protection group) in Mysuru wrote to the PM demanding a central anti-cow slaughter act and imposition of stricter punishment for those flouting the ban. The city police of Mysuru also foiled a beef-eating campaign organised by the Dalit Welfare Trust and other organisations on Sunday to protest the flogging of Dalits in Una, Gujarat. The protesters went on to hold a demonstration near the statue of BR Ambedkar on the Town Hall premises in the city. An auto rickshaw carrying beef was detained by the police the same day, but was released later.