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Above: President Ram Nath Kovind feeding cows at Deendayal Research Institute in Arogyadham, in Chitrakoot, MP/Photo: UNI

By invoking the draconian NSA Act against those arrested for cow slaughter, the Kamal Nath government is using the same policy of Hindutva as the previous BJP government much to the embarrassment of senior Congress leaders

By Rakesh Dixit in Bhopal  

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath has brought about many changes which have made his regime appear different from the previous Shivraj Singh Chouhan regime. However, secularism, which is supposed to be at the core of the Congress’s ideology, is not one of them. Not yet, at least.

Even after coming to power, the Congress seems paranoid about professing secularism lest Hindutva forces say the party is trying to appease Muslims. The paranoia has manifested itself in several decisions the Congress government has taken since it ousted the BJP in the recent assembly elections.

The latest manifestation of this is in­voking the National Security Act (NSA) against three Muslims in Khandwa district. The accused—Raju, Nadeem and Shakeel—were arrested on February 2 on the charge of committing cow slaughter in Kharkali village in communally sensitive Khandwa district. The police booked them under Sections 4, 6, and 9 of the Prohibition of Cow Slaughter Act. Khandwa Collector Vishesh Gadpale later invoked the NSA against them on the recommendation of Superintendent of Police Siddharth Bahuguna, who justified the decision saying that exemplary action against the accused was warranted to preempt an outbreak of communal tension over cow slaughter in the region.

The state’s home minister, Bala Bachchan, supported the SP’s stand, adding that more such police action would be taken in cow slaughter cases. “We are following our election manifesto about protection of cows. We are committed to our promises and it is reflecting in our action. If anyone indulges in the killing of cows, we will take the same action against them again and again. The police will continue its action against cow slaughter in future too.”

Muneesh Mishra, district Congress president of Khandwa, also praised the police, saying strict action against those indulging in cow slaughter was the need of the hour. He told the media that butchers in Khandwa had changed their modus operandi after vigilance by the police and locals. “Earlier, they used to transport cows alive in trucks after buying them from villagers, but now they are slaughtering them in villages and bringing in the meat,” he alleged.

Fear was palpable in Khandwa’s Imalipur butchers’ market after the arrests. Even the 28 shop owners who a the licence to slaughter cattle are now living in fear. According to reports, the butchers have apprised senior police officers, the home minister, and Kamal Nath about their problem. They say they were following the norms set by the law while slaughtering cattle.

Mohan Singore, the in-charge of Moghat police station, said one of the accused, Raju, was a habitual offender and had been booked previously under the cow slaughter legislation. The police claimed to have recovered the carcass of a cow from the spot and held the two other accused, Nadeem and Shakeel, who fled from the spot. A large knife and meat were reportedly seized from there. The police conducted a raid in Karkali village on February 1 to nab the men, but they escaped. They were picked up the following day from different locations in Khandwa. However, there are contradictory reports about the arrests. A Khandwa butcher, Altaf Qureshi, was quoted as saying: “I spoke to the family members who said the accused were sleeping at their homes when the incident was reported to have taken place.”

The Khandwa administration’s decision has evoked sharp reactions. The BJP has, predictably, welcomed it, saying no mercy should be shown to those indulging in cow slaughter. It even threatened to launch an agitation if the Congress government deviated from the previous BJP government’s tough stand on cow slaughter. The Chouhan government had invoked the NSA 22 times against such people.

Those, particularly from the Muslim community, who believed the Congress government would act differently on this sensitive issue are shocked. They have severely criticised the state government for allowing the Khandwa SP and collector to go scot-free for invoking the NSA against the three Muslim youth. Even top Congress leaders have shown disapproval of the “unnecessary action”.

Congress sources ascribe the chief minister’s action to the fear that the BJP might communalise the issue to take political advantage. “The chief minister has taken necessary action to ensure that collectors and SPs are restricted from invoking the NSA in future in cow slaughter cases. But announcing such a decision would only provoke the BJP to dub Muslim appeasers. We don’t want to give the BJP any opportunity to whip up communal passion ahead of the Lok Sabha elections,” said a senior Congress leader who is close to the chief minister.

Sources said that in the wake of the severe criticism, the chief minister has withdrawn the power to take such a decision from SPs. From now on, only director generals of police will be authorised to invoke the draconian Act.

Had it not been for the paranoia that the BJP might take political advantage of the Khandwa incident, the chief minister could easily have avoided the embarrassment he faced within and outside his party. He seems willing to compromise on secularist values even at the risk of this approach being dubbed a soft version of Hindutva.

This was also in evidence when he did a U-turn over the singing of “Vande Mataram”. The national song used to be sung by government employees at the Secretariat since 2006 on the first working day of every month. The Congress government scrapped this practice. After the BJP protested, the government resumed it in a modified form. It was decided that “Vande Mataram” would be sung with greater pomp and show, and with public participation. Likewise, the government yielded under BJP pressure to continue the pension to MISA detenus, albeit with a slight modification in the scheme.

On cow protection, the Congress is keen to outdo the BJP with a promise to open cowsheds in all 23,000 panchayats. Last month, the government provided Rs 450 crore to open 1,000 cowsheds. The Congress ran its campaign for the assembly election on a soft Hindutva plank, claiming that the BJP cannot claim a monopoly on the Hindu religion. The campaign witnessed a competitive display of religiosity between the BJP and the Congress. Congress President Rahul Gandhi was projected as a Shiv bhakt, and temple-hopping by party leaders was widely advertised. However, the Congress was not expected to toe the BJP line on sensitive communal matters after coming to power.

The invoking of the stringent NSA has been particularly upsetting for Congress leaders as the party had criticised the BJP for such overreach in the past.

Rahul Gandhi disapproved of the “mistake” and duly apprised the state leadership about it, according to senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, who himself expressed disapproval on the move by the MP government. Another senior Congress leader, Digvijaya Singh, also said: “I don’t think there are national security concerns in cow slaughter.” Rajasthan deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot said that the issue could have been handled differently and priority should be accorded to tackle crimes against humans.

Bhopal Central MLA Arif Masood has written to Kamal Nath, demanding the setting up of an SIT and transfer of the Khandwa district collector for invoking the NSA.

In 1980, it was precisely to safeguard national security concerns that then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had introduced the NSA, replacing the National Security Ordinance. The Act (through Section 3) gives power to the central government, state government, and even the Commissioner of police or a district magistrate to detain any citizen or foreigner to prevent him from acting in a manner prejudicial to the “security of the State”, “maintenance of public order” or “maintenance of supplies and services which are essential to the community”. Under the provisions of the NSA, a person can be detained for as long as the State wants, and authorities are not even required to disclose the grounds for detention.

The decision to slap the NSA on cow slaughterers is being opposed mainly on two grounds. First, howsoever reprehensible cow slaughter might be, it does not threaten the security of the State or the maintenance of public order. Second, the provisions of the ban on cow slaughter under which the three accused were arrested, are harsh enough for the crime, and, therefore, no harsher punishment is called for.

Muslims account for six percent of the population of Madhya Pradesh. They had overwhelmingly voted for the Congress in the assembly election.

Has the Congress taken their votes for granted?

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