Hyderabad/Gajwel(Telangana): Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday came down heavily on the perpetrators of violence on Dalits, telling them, "if you have to attack, attack me" but stop attacking "my Dalit bretheren".
Facing increasingly bruising opposition assault on him and BJP over attacks on Dalits and on the issue of cow vigilantes, Modi also lashed out at "fake cow protectors", denouncing them for the second day running for trying to create "tension and conflict" in the society and asking the states to take stringent action against them.
Making an emotional appeal at a meeting of BJP workers in Hyderabad, Modi asked people to protect and respect Dalits who have for long been neglected by the society.
Questioned repeatedly over his 'silence' on the sensitive issue of attacks on Dalits by alleged Hindu right-wingers, Modi said, "I would like to tell these people that if you have any problem, if you have attack, attack me. Stop attacking my Dalit brethren. If you have to shoot, shoot me, but not my Dalit brothers. This game should stop."
Modi's choice of Hyderabad to denounce the attacks on Dalits was significant as his government had come under opposition fire following the suicide by a Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula in the city which had triggered campus unrest in several parts of the country.
Modi said at times some incidents come to notice which give us "unbearable pain". "It should be our responsibility to save and respect them (Dalits)," he said without referring to any particular incident.
Modi asked what right the perpetrators had to exploit Dalits and said the unity in society should be our priority. "I know this problem is social. It is a result of sins which have crept into the society... But we need to take extra care and save society from such danger (of social strife)," he said. Modi said the society should not be allowed to be divided on the basis of caste, religion and social status.
Deprecating those who try to make political currency out of such issues, the Prime Minister said attempts to politicize those would only aggravate the problem. "Those who want to solve this social problem, I request them to leave politics that divides the society. Divisive politics will not do any good to the country," he said.
Earlier on Sunday, the prime minister took on cow vigilantes at a public meeting in Gajwel in Telangana after laying the foundation stones for a raft of development projects. "I want to tell everybody beware of these fake cow protectors. These handful of vigilantes have nothing to do with cow protection, but want to create 'tanaav' (tension) and 'takrav' (conflict) in the society," Modi said.
"In the name of cow protection, these fake cow protectors are trying to disturb the peace and harmony of the nation. I want the real cow protectors to expose them (fake ones) and the state governments should take stringent action against them," he added.
In his first public denouncement of cow vigilantes, some of whom flogged dalits in Gujarat for skinning a dead cow, Modi on Saturday said in Delhi he felt enraged at such "anti-social elements" who indulged in crimes by the night and masqueraded as cow protectors by the day.
As he denounced cow vigilantism, Modi also pitched for protection of the animal, held holy by Hindus. "Cow will never become a burden. Cow urine and dung are used in agriculture," he said, adding that cow should be linked to the country's economic development.
India is a land of diversity, he said, adding "protecting our country's unity and integrity is our primary responsibility. To fulfil it all countrymen should protect and serve cows (gau raksha and gau seva karein). Such service enhances national wealth.... it does not create problem for the nation".
"But fake (cow protectors) destroy society and country. We need to beware of these people. There is a need to punish these people. Then alone can we take the nation to great heights," the Prime Minister said.
Notwithstanding Modi's criticism of the vigilantes, the opposition termed it as "absolutely humbug", alleging that his ideological co-travellers were perpetrating "terror" in the name of cow protection.
Congress leader Manish Tewari questioned Modi's "silence" on the Dadri lynching incident last year and alleged that the PM was selective in his outreach.
"..why does he not prevail upon RSS to disband the VHP, why does he not take action against the office bearers of Bajrang Dal?
"Therefore it is his ideological co-travellers who have been perpetrating this spectre of uncertainty and terror in the name of cow lumpenism across the country, thereby whatever the Prime Minister says today is absolutely humbug and completely sanctimonious," Tewari said.
Echoing similar sentiments, JD(U) leader Pavan Verma said had the PM given a stern message earlier, the "menace" of gau rakshaks could have been prevented.
"If the Prime Minister had given the same message earlier, we would not have seen this menace of gau rakshaks spreading pan India. But he choose to keep silent although he tweets on any other subject under the sun. Breaking the silence is welcome, the only question is why so late," he said.
CPI leader D Raja also crticised the ruling dispensation stating there were issues on which people expect the PM to speak, including, increasing atrocities on dalits.
"Why has the PM not uttered a single word against the atrocities committed in his own state Gujarat?" he asked.
BJP, however, defended Modi's statement and said the opposition attack was a "classic book example of political bankruptcy".
"There cannot be more direct censure by the Prime Minister in expressing his displeasure to what anti-social elements are doing in the name of 'Gau Raksha'," BJP National Secretary Sidharth Nath Singh said.