09/08/2016 8:19 PM IST | Updated 10/08/2016 12:58 PM IST

Why Did The Action Against Gau Rakshaks Need To Wait For A Prime Ministerial (Cattle) Prod?

The flurry of activity after the PM’s statements proves that there is indeed a problem.

Adnan Abidi / Reuters
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks to the media inside the parliament premises on the first day of the monsoon session in New Delhi.

There's an old saying about the tail that wags the dog. The RSS has long been seen as wagging any BJP-led government or at least attempting to do so. Finally it seems the tables have turned.

After the Prime Minister spoke up against anti-social gau rakshaks, the RSS has suddenly sprung into action. Two back-to-back statements have followed from the Sangh.

Not to be outdone by the PM, the RSS has said those attacking Dalits are "anti-national". (Again, nothing about those attacking Muslims).

RSS leader Rakesh Sinha has been quick to claim that in fact the Sangh was the first to issue a statement after the Dalit youths were thrashed in Una. The RSS front organization the Samajik Samrasta Manch organized a Sadbhav Sammelan in Una where some 70 spiritual leaders showed up to condemn the violence and issued a statement calling untouchability a "sickness in Hindu society".

But reports said it had failed to cut much ice with the local Dalit community. "Anyone who is attacking Dalits, he is not attacking a Dalit, he is attacking the Hindu society. Those who are engaged in violence against Dalits, they are anti-Hindu," said Sinha.

What Sinha fails to understand is it's not about being Hindu or anti-Hindu, it's about being law-abiding or law-breaking. It's about being rakshaks or thugs.

RSS general secretary Bhaiyaji Joshi issued a statement saying "We expect the administration to take speedy action against such individuals and groups who break the law." He said taking the law into one's own hands to harass Dalits was both illegal and inhuman.

Now the cops have swung into action as well. Delhi police have initiated a process of creating a database of miscreants who indulge in violence in the name of cow protection reports the Times of India. The Punjab police have started a case against Satish Kumar, the head of the Punjab Gau Raksha Dal. Kumar at least believes there is a direct line between Modi's statement and his FIR. "Modiji k ek bayan par kar diya (They did it on one statement from Modiji)," he tells The Telegraph alleging that the FIR was based on a 10-year-old video.

Cathal McNaughton / Reuters
Digvijay Nath Tiwari, the commander of a Hindu nationalist vigilante group established to protect cows, is pictured with animals he claimed to have saved from slaughter, in Agra, India August 8, 2016.

The question is not why is all this happening, but why did it need to wait for a prime ministerial (cattle) prod?

In that same townhall, Modi had also made a jab at those who want him to speak up on every issue, big and small. "Today if something happens at the panchayat level, I am asked questions," he said. "Politically it is fine, for TRPs too it may be fine, but it creates problems for the Prime Minister. There is nothing wrong if the Prime Minister is questioned, it should happen in a democracy. But a negative fallout of this is that the panchayat, nagar panchayat, district and the state do not feel their responsibility. They think that everything is the responsibility of the Prime Minister."

The flurry of activity after the PM's statements both at police, state government and RSS levels proves that is indeed the problem. As @DeathEndsFun commented on Twitter "Why did this need to wait to happen until after the PM spoke?"

In a country bedeviled by dog whistle politics when the PM says nothing it is seen as a de facto green light for the miscreants. No one wants to stick their neck out, even on the side of the law, and risk irking the party top brass.

The answer is simple. In a country bedeviled by dog whistle politics when the PM says nothing it is seen as a de facto green light for the miscreants. No one wants to stick their neck out, even on the side of the law, and risk irking the party top brass. When an elected MLA can openly and brazenly assault journalists and students in broad daylight in a courthouse it sends a chilling signal to law enforcement in general.

It basically says enforce the law at your own risk. That MLA was arrested but immediately granted bail. And he remained defiant saying "Main goli bhi maar deta agar bandook hoti. Koi hamaari Ma ko gali deta to kya use maaroge nahin." (I would have shot them if I had a gun. If someone insults my mother should I not beat them?)

While the reports of cow vigilantism have been in the media for awhile police commissioners blithely claim that they have never received any complaints. Ludhiana Police Commissioner J S Aulakh tells the Indian Express "Some traders discussed the issue with me but I am yet to get a written complaint."

Even if cow slaughter is illegal, yanking people from trucks on suspicion of cow-trafficking and thrashing them is also illegal. When a group of gau rakshaks stopped two trucks in Shahdara and thrashed the occupants and tried to set the vehicles on fire, they were not charged with wrongdoing. The truck drivers were booked on charges of cruelty to animals and the trucks were seized.

The PM's intervention might have been driven by electoral compulsions, and it might have been provoked by fears of Dalit-Muslim unity. But at least he drew a line in the sand and that is welcome, whatever the reasons behind it. One does not have to look a gift cow in the mouth.

But it did little to address the larger issue of paralysis. The PM's statement was interpreted as a directive saying "OK, enough. Act now." If he was serious about empowering local government and police, his statement needed to be seen as a challenge to them saying "Why have you not acted until now?"

That is yet to happen.