For some months now, there have been reports and videos of cow vigilatism coming in from the Hindi heartland, on the borders of Delhi and Haryana, and other places in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. It was quite clear that these vigilantes were not an insignificant number, and it was equally clear that what they were doing was outside the scope of the law. No law gives the right to intercept vehicles or other people unless you are a law enforcer (police or similar agency). The police should be the first one to object to any private citizens taking the law into their own hands, but in this case, the police did not take any action. Now, it is not an unfair proposition that this was because of political influences, and it is only the BJP (and the parent organization, the RSS) which is encouraging this tactic, of promoting the cow as a symbol of Hindu and national pride, the mother animal for the entire country. This came dramatically to the forefront during the attack in Dadri, where mere suspicion of the consumption of cow meat caused the death of a Muslim man. This attack horrified large sections of the country, but the local BJP leaders were not at all defensive. They rose to the defense of those people charged with the death, and there were politicians from to place who claimed that the cow was the holy mother, and anybody taking action against the cow would be threatened.
Now, when somebody threatens something, and sees that there is really no action being taken by the police against others taking such action, there is a lot of confidence that there is no responsibility behind such an action. The plus point was that typically the meat business at the local level (or the local butchers) is handled by Muslims (even if ownership of larger such operations would be with Hindus). However, at some point or the other, such action will have consequences that are adverse, and so it happened in this case.
The BJP has a very strong Dalit outreach program, given that it is critical to get more Dalit support if the party has to hold its majority or even increase it. So, the BJP and RSS both have strong outreach programs, although the past year has caused problems to the outreach program. There will be some BJP politician or the other who will raise some controversy that threatens the outreach problem, such as the case in Hyderabad University where a Dalit scholar committed suicide and it became a major controversy.
The controversy about the beating up of Dalit youth in Una in Gujarat was a major setback to this outreach program. Typically, with the large number of cows in India, there is a ready business involving skinning cows and using the hide for many purposes; leather after all is something that is used in large numbers for wallets, belts, shoes, etc. This business involves a number of Dalits and Muslims, and there would be a clash when cow vigilantes came up against them. After all, it is not that the cow vigilantes were a well planned unit; they would be local volunteers who were sure that there would be no action against them. And so it happened. The vigilantees caught some Dalits transporting cows, and decided to give them the full treatment – they were stripped and thrashed brutally, landing them in hospital. And the vigilantees were so proud at what they had done that they video recored this entire affair and released the video.
They would not be proud for much longer. The video shocked a lot of people, the local Dalit community started protesting and Dalit leaders across the country started protesting. So far no action had been taken, but when the BJP realized the impact this could have on their Dalit outreach, the action started happening very quickly. The cow committee members were arrested, the BJP strongly condemned the action taken by the cow protection volunteer; however, there is still no clarity of the impact this would have on the BJP outreach program, especially in Uttar Pradesh. Any impact on the Dalit vote will be cruicial for the BJP since it has to win the state to show that it has not lost the support it gained during the 2014 Lok Sabha election. But how do you fight for the cow committee without getting into such conflicts again and again ?