HYDERABAD/GAJWEL: As the BJP-led NDA government faces widespread criticism for attacks on Dalits by cow vigilantes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his maiden visit to Telangana on Sunday asked perpetrators of violence against Dalits to attack him before they attacked Dalits. "If you want to shoot me, shoot me. I am ready to face the first bullet,'" he said in Hyderabad, just a day after his unequivocal condemnation of gau rakshaks, even as Dalits in the Prime Minister's home state of Gujarat are marching from the state capital of Ahmedabad to Una where recently Dalits were publicly flogged by cow vigilantes.
Speaking earlier in Gajwel of Medak district, Modi nuanced his position on gau rakshaks, drawing a distinction between genuine gau rakshaks and "nakli" gau rakshaks whose intention was to create disharmony, calling on state governments to crack down on such groups. Sharing a dais with Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao in Gajwel, Modi dwelt on the importance of cow protection and the benefits a cow derives to a man.
``But now, a new crop of fake cow vigilants have grown. State governments should be vigilant against such forces and the genuine cow protectors should also maintain vigil against such elements,'' he said. Later, addressing booth-level workers at the party's Maha Sammelan in Hyderabad, Modi tried to erase the 'anti-Dalit' mark on his government and said his was the only central government that had given due place to Dr B R Ambedkar within the nation and outside.
"We are keen on developing `panch teerthas' (five pious places) related to Dr Ambedkar which were neglected by the governments all these years,'' he said. Stating that growth of Dalits meant growth of the nation, Modi said his government would not allow division of people on the lines of caste. "Dividing people in the name of Dalits is not good for the nation,'' he said, adding that some (parties) were fearing that their Dalit vote bank was slipping from their hands.
“They are not in a position to digest that their vote bank is losing and are making all efforts to see that Dalits do not embrace the BJP,'' he said. Making a point that his government would leave no stone unturned for the welfare of Dalits, the PM said that some parties were trying to attack him using Dalits as shields. ``It is the responsibility of every individual to provide security to downtrodden. If any one want to attack Dalit, let them attack me. I am ready to face the bullet,'' Modi said, asserting that the marginalisation of Dalits had to be put an end.
Modi's assertion of his government's commitment to the welfare of the Dalit community in the city where the suicide of Dalit research scholar Rohit Vemula became a flashpoint earlier in the year, came just a week after BJP MLA from Goshamahal in the city Raja Singh Lodh's video supporting the flogging of Dalits in Una went viral.
(With inputs from V V Balakrishna in Gajwel)