With elections looming in key Indian states, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to placate the Dalit community as he condemned Hindu cow protection groups for violence against low-caste Dalits in recent weeks.
The brutal beating last month of four Dalit men by self-styled cow vigilantes in Gujarat, Mr Modi's home state, sparked angry protests, the attack coming at a time when the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to woo Dalits in the state to expand its voter base.
Mr Modi's silence on the violence by the cow protection groups, which are ardent supporters of the BJP, angered the Dalits.
I feel infuriated at some people who have opened shops in the name of cow protection. I have seen some people who commit anti-social activities through the night, but don the mantle of cow protectors by day.
PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI
Speaking out for the first time at the weekend, the Prime Minister took those he called fake cow protectors to task.
"I feel so infuriated," he said at a town hall-style meeting on Sunday. "I have seen some people who commit anti-social activities through the night, but don the mantle of cow protectors by day."
He told state governments to prepare a dossier on such individuals while noting that those working for the protection of cows should look into ways to prevent their deaths from causes such as when the animals swallow plastic bags.
Modi's reach-out for Independence Day
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Cabinet colleagues will travel across India for the 70th anniversary of India's independence as part of his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) campaign to reach out to people and publicise government schemes.
Kicking off the two-week campaign today, Mr Modi will visit Bhabhra, the birthplace of Indian freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad, and address a rally where he is expected to list the government's achievements.
The campaign will also see 75 federal government ministers visiting 150 important landmarks in India's fight to gain independence from the British.
India celebrates Independence Day on Aug 15.
"Aug 15 is one of the most important dates in this country. It is the best time to reach out to people on the government's many schemes and also get feedback on the people's concerns," BJP leader G.V.L. Narasimha Rao told The Straits Times.
"The Prime Minister believes very firmly that politics today cannot be an election time activity where you simply go and seek votes, and then forget about it the rest of the time," he added.
BJP leaders said the campaign was also aimed at fostering national unity. The party is drawing up a list of unsung heroes of the independence era.
The party also told its legislative assembly members and Members of Parliament to go out on motorcycles on Aug 15 while holding the national flag to "foster a sense of patriotism".
Since the BJP came to power in 2014, cow protection has become a key issue for the BJP and its supporters such as the Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
Last year, a Muslim blacksmith was lynched by a Hindu mob in Uttar Pradesh state following rumours that he had eaten beef.
Cow vigilantes, who have been around for years, have become increasingly active in the past two years, operating through a network of informers and social media as they seek to stop cow slaughter in a country that, incidentally, is the world's biggest beef exporter.
Political analysts say Mr Modi had been forced to speak out to contain the political fallout to his party from the Gujarat beatings and to do so at the risk of angering its right-wing supporters.
"I'm sure groups like the VHP will be angry, but this was obviously done for vote bank politics," said Gujarat-based political analyst Ghanshyam Shah. "But it can't work because the BJP does not have empathy for Dalits."
Dr Sandeep Shastri, pro vice- chancellor of Jain University in Bangalore, noted that the BJP was in danger of losing support among Dalits in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, which go to the polls next year.
"(Mr Modi's statement) does have an impact. It projects the government's position (on cow protection groups). He realised that the delay in responding has cost the party dearly," said Dr Shastri.
"Whatever support the BJP has among the Dalit community is also in danger of shrinking. I don't know if there will be a positive impact but it will help stem the negative fallout for the party."
Police in some parts of the country appear to be heeding what the Prime Minister said.
Indian media reported that police in northern Punjab state had filed a case against Mr Satish Kumar, the leader of a cow protection group, for uploading a video showing members of his group beating up people.
But Dalit groups in Gujarat see Mr Modi's remarks as too little, too late.
"It was simply a political statement. There should be action including more schemes to uplift Dalits from poverty," said Dr Rameshchandra Parmar of the Bharatiya Dalit Panther.