Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally broke his silence, if obliquely, on the murder of 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq at Dadri in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday at an election rally in Bihar, hailing President Pranab Mukherjee’s appeal on Wednesday to preserve India’s core civilisational values.
But the Prime Minister’s comments fell short of condemning the lynching of Akhlaq or of pulling up his party colleagues, ministers Mahesh Sharma and Sanjeev Baliyan, MPs Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj or MLA Sangeet Som, to desist from making the communally polarising statements. He restricted himself to a general remark on “some politicians [have been] making irresponsible statements for political interests... [which] should end.”
Instead, he skilfully wove his salute to the President into a reference to the bomb explosion at a rally he had addressed in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan in the run-up to the general elections of 2014: on that occasion, he recalled, he had set aside the attack aimed at exterminating him and instead exhorted Hindus and Muslims not to fight each other but unitedly tackle poverty. He had not allowed that episode to be politicised, as some political parties were now politicising some incidents — a reference to the killing of Akhlaq.
“Some politicians are making irresponsible statements for political interests ... Such statements should end ... Do not pay attention to such statements, even if Modi himself makes any such statement,” he said.
But even as he made an appeal for communal harmony and brotherhood, the Prime Minister also plunged into the beef debate by lashing out at Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad for “insulting Yadavs for saying that they, too, eat meat.”
“Laluji, whatever you have become, it is because of the blessings of these Yaduvanshis. And you abuse them so much now? You come out with such claims about what they eat. I am ashamed to even talk about this. Please do not insult my people; I come from Krishna’s Dwarka,” he said.
Mr. Modi was clearly seeking to create a wedge between Mr. Prasad and his caste fellows by using the beef motif. He appeared to be trying to shatter the Yadav consolidation that appeared to have taken place in favour of the Janata Dal (United)-led grand coalition. For the Yadavs — who are close to 15 per cent in Bihar — a possible victory of the grand coalition holds out the promise of the community regaining the political and economic power they had wielded when the RJD had ruled the State. But Mr. Prasad’s ill-judged remark on the eating of beef could, his supporters feel, hurt his prospects — and on Thursday, Mr. Modi sought to drive that point home.
Indeed, ever since the Dadri lynching, the Centre’s efforts at damage control have been calibrated, largely because it believes that the current “beef politics” can pay the BJP dividends in the Bihar polls critical to its future.
It was only when criticism started coming in from abroad that Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told NDTV in New York: “India is a mature society. We have to rise above these incidents because they certainly don’t bring a good name as far as the country is concerned. And I have also said that they can amount to policy diversions.”