On 6 August, at a town-hall-style meeting in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke out against self-styled gau rakshaks, or cow protectors, declaring that 80 percent of them were fake. “I feel angry when people, in the name of cow protection, do business,” the Indian Express reported him as saying. It had been nearly a month since seven Dalits were flogged in the city of Una in Gujarat, for skinning a dead cow. Since then, the state had witnessed a storm of protests by Dalits, who took to the streets in rage against the assault. The agitations refused to die down in the weeks that followed, building pressure on Modi to address the issue.
The prime minister’s comments on the matter, however, both in Delhi and in Telangana the next day, were not an outright condemnation of those who unleash violence in the name of protecting cows. Rather, he directed his ire specifically at what he claimed were fake gau rakshaks—suggesting, perhaps, that there were also genuine vigilantes whose aggressive tactics of cow protection he found acceptable.
The prime minister’s remarks were followed by a quick succession of reactions from the Hindutva camp—specifically the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishva Hindu Parishad—that were indicative of the push-and-pull negotiations that take place within these organisations on key issues. The senior RSS leader Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi issued a statement the day after the Delhi meeting that broadly supported Modi’s views. Joshi called on people to separate the “condemnable efforts of a few opportunists” with those carrying out “the good work” of gau raksha.