On Saturday 6th August, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed an audience in New Delhi on the lines of American President Barack Obama’s town hall interactions and there he broke his silence on the growing atrocities against the Dalits and the excesses of the gau rakshaks (cow protectors) in the country, clearly saying that it makes him angry and adding that a majority of those carrying out such atrocities are “anti-social elements”.

Is it because of upcoming elections?

That the prime minister, who is also the tallest political leader in India at the moment, spoke on an issue which is looking ominous for the country’s unity is certainly assuring for many quarters, particularly India's ever-growing middle-class, but a pertinent question also comes in the mind.

Did Prime Minister Modi speak out on this keeping in the mind the two important state elections that will take place in 2017?

UP, Gujarat two big challenges for Modi

The BJP has not succeeded in maintaining its good electoral track record since 2014 when it followed up the national election victory with wins in some states where it came to power for the first time, like in Maharashtra (as the main party in government), Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir (as the coalition partner).

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The year 2015 saw Modi’s party losing two prestigious battles in Delhi and Bihar and in 2016, even though it came to power in Assam for the first time and opened its account in Kerala, it could not yet prove itself to be a potent challenger for regional powers in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. In fact, the BJP, despite Modi’s inspiring leadership, is yet to make inroads in states in India where the Congress is weak and are dominated by regional parties.

Against this backdrop, the saffron party has a huge stake in Uttar Pradesh, politically India’s most important state which was swept by the Modi wave in 2014, and Gujarat, which is Modi’s home state, in 2017.

Modi wave swept UP in 2014

In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, it was the Dalits’ support that had seen the BJP knock every other rival, including regional forces like the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), in this state.

The BSP, which is primarily a Dalit-based party, drew blank in that election but it looks strong to regain the lost ground in the next state elections and if the Dalits return to the fold of Mayawati, the Dalit messiah and the BSP chief, then Modi will certainly have lot to lose, including his face.

Hence, the PM lashed out at the “pseudo” cow protectors during his Saturday address, feel many. In Gujarat, too, the stakes are high for the BJP. It is a state which the saffron party is in power continuously since 1998 and out of these 18 years, Modi was at the helm for 13 years. It becomes very important for the man to ensure that the BJP continues to rule the state even after his exit for national duty but the growing atrocities against the Dalits in that state by the ‘cow protectors’ have put the BJP leadership in a spot.

The Dalit issue adds up to the relentless agitation by the Patidars, a strong constituency of the BJP in the state, against its own government over demand for reservation. The minority question, on the other hand, continues to be an electoral challenge for the BJP. Sandwiched between these pressing problems, the BJP’s nervous face was showing as Modi’s successor in Gujarat Anandiben Patel offered to quit, paving the way for a non-Patel Vijay Rupani to succeed her.

The snowballing of the intolerance of beef consumption attacks on Dalits has put the Modi government in discomfort and the PM finally spoke but it looked more out of desperation ahead of the polls. The cow in today’s India is ultimately tied to the issue of winning elections for it has become a highly productive medium to mobilise the majoritarian sentiments. Modi needs to ensure that his government takes a comprehensive strategy to counter the menace and just not address the issue only when election arrives.