In directing States to show “zero tolerance” to attempts to “weaken the secular fabric” of the country, the >Union Home Ministry was voicing its concern at the widening social acceptance of communal violence as a normal part of everyday life. The l >ynching in Dadri of Mohammad Akhlaq for “eating beef” was an extreme case, but the circumstances that led to the murder were not dissimilar to those in many other parts of the country following the political mobilisation along communal lines against cattle slaughter. That the Ministry thought it fit to issue the directive despite law and order being a State subject indicates the seriousness of the situation in several States. Many Hindutva activists have projected cow slaughter as a deliberate assault on the religious sensitivities of Hindus by butchers and traders and exporters belonging to other religions. In such a situation, it would not take much effort on the part of extremist elements to portray any meal in a non-Hindu family as a grave provocation. Thus, the advisory issued by the Ministry — warning against the exploitation of religious emotions or sentiments and calling for the “strictest action as per law” against the culprits — demands the urgent attention of State governments. Law enforcers need to act at the very first sign of trouble.
However, the BJP-led government at the Centre should guard against letting this issue descend into a political slugfest with State governments run by other parties. In Uttar Pradesh, especially, the stage seems set for a blame game between the Samajwadi Party and the BJP. In its report to the Centre, the SP government avoided listing any motive for the Dadri attack. To readily grant that the violence was the result of sudden outrage over beef consumption would have been to ignore the systematic, communally charged campaign against cattle slaughter by Hindutva activists. While noting that there were allegations that Akhlaq was killed for consuming the “meat of an animal whose slaughter is banned”, the report said no conclusion had been reached as yet. Evidently, the report stuck to the bare, verifiable facts, in order to prevent Hindutva elements from making political capital out of religious sentiments around the cow. Also, this has left the window open to charge the accused with attempting to instigate large-scale communal violence. The Home Ministry, in issuing the directive, might have wanted to shift the onus to the States to prevent such incidents. But, beyond apportioning blame and shifting responsibility, the Central and State governments ought to realise the potential for trouble from this campaign against beef by communally motivated elements.