25 October, 2012

The day Sadhus demanding ban on cow-slaughter were killed outside Parliament

Promila Kalhan

Being a devout Hindu, Gulzarilal Nanda had strong views on cow slaughter. Some states had done away with it, but not all. Nanda raised the proposal to ban cow slaughter with various chief ministers. For the protection of the cow, Nanda felt that if the breed of cow could be improved and it gave larger quantities of milk, then the cow's owner should not mind giving it protection after it went dry during the last part of its life. There were quite a few people who felt strongly about banning cow slaughter. In a note some months after an agitation against cow slaughter started Nanda gave the following details:

'In Parliament there was keen interest which increased as the movement (against cow slaughter) developed. At one stage, more than 100 members of Parliament signed a statement in support of the agitation and the ban on cow slaughter and submitted it to the prime minister. A number of members of Parliament approached me frequently to expedite our action. They were all sympathetic to the purpose of the agitation. The matter came up for consideration in the executive committee of the parliamentary party more than once. At the meeting a resolution was adopted which favoured a complete ban throughout the country.

'Meanwhile, the matter was taken before the working committee. I was asked by the committee to deal with the matter in Parliament and make a statement. I told the committee that this was not my subject and therefore I was not prepared to make a statement. Moreover, I had certain strong views on the subject and therefore I was likely to go beyond what might be intended by the other. They insisted that I should handle it, but even then I refused. The decision was that whatever the Constitution permitted should be enforced in the other states also which has so far no legislation for the purpose.

'Knowing that some of the chief ministers had expressed their disinclination it was decided that these chief ministers might be called immediately by the prime minister and persuaded to accept the line adopted in the working committee. In terms of that decision I made a statement in Parliament on 4th November, 1966. There was a great deal of applause and general satisfaction expressed in relation to that statement.

'The period between the 4th and 7th of November, 1966, naturally is of crucial importance in this context. It was expected that the prime minister would call the chief ministers for consultation and secure their consent. I reminded her also once or twice but it appears that they failed to carry out this obligation. If this part of the assignment had been carried out on the lines recommended by the working committee, the incidents of 7th November might will have been avoided. In fact, the Goraksha Samiti people told me that if I were to succeed in the efforts I was making there need not be any procession but there would be a thanksgiving meeting.

'On the 6th November, I summoned the meeting of the officers concerned at my residence to discuss the whole situation and the arrangements to be made in connection with the procession which had been announced. At that meeting, the lieutenant governor was present. Also the home secretary, officers of the Delhi administration, the inspector general of police and top personnel of the Intelligence Bureau were also present. It took us two hours to go through the business of this meeting. I asked all sorts of questions in connection with the arrangements and enquired about the route, whether it was a safe route. The answer given was that those responsible for the procession had agreed to such changes of the route as asked for.

'I had asked whether there was adequate police. I enquired whether they had made effective arrangements to prevent any persons coming too close to Parliament's precincts; whether any additional barriers needed to be placed. I also enquired as to how much reserve police they had got after making arrangements for their disposition at the time of the procession and at the end I asked them whether there was any information from any source about any element of mischief, or any trouble that might be apprehended in connection with the procession. They told me repeatedly that everything was normal, that they had no information at all of any kind of trouble developing on that date.

'On the 7th, I was naturally anxious to be in touch with what was happening but I was not able to get any regular reports. There were occasional telephone calls here and there. It appeared that the communication system just did not work properly. When I came to know that some trouble had arisen. I was naturally very anxious to get more precise information but it came only in very small bits.

'When I went to Parliament in the early afternoon, I went up to the northern gate of Parliament House across which the procession was held up. Before that I had seen smoke rising in the sky. I was told that it was occasioned by tear gas shells. I had some information that earlier some persons from outside had started smashing some doors of business houses and shops and were creating mischief. I intended to go into the crowd myself, but I was prevented to do so. I peered into the scene through the iron gate. I saw some Naga Sadhus shouting and moving up and down but there was nothing very serious at that point.

I came back to my office in Parliament House and received reports about arson and some firing and some deaths. There was a hurried meeting of some members of the Cabinet and after consultations I prepared a statement for the Lok Sabha. I read this out at the end of the day's business. My mind was full of the situation as naturally other people had expressed their sense of sorrow about the happenings. At the end, the prime minister asked me whether I would like to say something. I declined.

'When she left, I followed her to her office and told her that in view of what had transpired in the committee, I did not think I would be able to carry on with my duties although I do not think that the home minister can be blamed for what had happened and there was no failure of responsibility on the part of the ministry. She then told me that I should not do anything in haste and that she would like to consider the matter the next day.'

Nanda was dropped as home minister. Being an honest man himself and keen on anti-corruption measures, he evidently made quite a few enemies in the Congress party and the government. Quite a few of them were worried how they would be able to fight any elections in the future if they were prevented from raising funds from various sources.

Some people evidently allowed mischief makers, even perhaps goonda elements to become part of the procession consisting mainly of sadhus. These elements forced their way into the precincts of Parliament House. The police naturally took action. Also, it appears, some of the mischievous elements even forced their way into the house of the Congress president. The whole matter appears to have been engineered. Nanda's enemies won the day.

It was in the guise of sadhus that some mischief-makers were able to bring about violence which ultimately created a problem for the home ministry which Nanda had to leave.

The question is sometimes asked why was he so enamored of sadhus?

Nanda believed that real sadhus could help put people on the right path. The corrupt, for instance, could be punished but what was required was that corruption should be prevented and that could only happen by reforming the wrongdoers. His own association with the godly gave him strength. He wrote in a letter to a friend 'I believe in the efficacy of prayers as in instrument of personal transformation and a source of help to others in the same terms. To be near Anandmai (Anandamayee Ma), ever for a short while is a privilege of a high order. Divine grace gave me the opportunity of living and breathing for a period of eleven days in the blessed atmosphere around her at Dehradun. I have come back enriched and fortified.' The letter is dated July 16, 1976, around ten years after he stepped out of the home ministry.

Extract from Gulzarilal Nanda: A Life in the Service of the People

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