New Delhi/Ahmedabad: Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his silence on increasing attacks by vigilantes and others that have targeted people, mostly Muslims, under the guise of protecting cows.

Speaking at an event at Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, Modi said no one had the right to take the law into their hands. People should not forget that India is the land of non-violence, he added.

This is not the first time the Prime Minister has spoken against the self-styled cow protectors or gau rakshaks. In August last year, he asked state governments to crack down on these vigilantes.

The comments on Thursday broke his silence on more recent incidents of mob violence. The remarks symbolically delivered from one of the HQs of Mahatma Gandhi, came a day after protests in several cities of the country against instances of mob violence. According to a Press Trust of India report, hundreds of people from Delhi joined the protest, called “Not In My Name," held six days after 17-year-old Junaid Khan was killed by a mob on board a Mathura-bound train. The protesters voiced their resistance to the “climate of fear" in the country.

“No one spoke about protecting cows more than Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave. Yes it should be done," Modi said.

(But) “Killing people in the name of ‘gau bhakti’ (devotion to the cow) is not acceptable. This is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve," he added.

Modi was speaking at the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Shrimad Rajchandraji, hailed as the spiritual guru of Mahatma Gandhi and the centenary of the Sabarmati Ashram.

Modi urged people to collectively work towards creating a country that would make freedom fighters proud and fulfil the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi. “Let’s all work together. Let’s create the India of Mahatma Gandhi’s dreams. Let’s create an India our freedom fighters would be proud of," he said.

Opposition parties said Modi’s remarks meant nothing and asked him to act tough against vigilantes.

The Indian National Congress dismissed the Prime Minister’s warning to those killing people in the name of cow protection as a publicity stunt. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said the Prime Minister’s remarks that killings in the name of cow protection were not acceptable, were “too little, too late" and the words meant nothing.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said: “We are aware of Gandhi’s principles ... We want to know what the prime minister proposes to do to stop such mobocracy."

Gujarat polls

The Prime Minister, who is on a two-day visit to poll bound Gujarat, visited Rajkot in the evening for distributing aid among 18,000 differently-abled people and inaugurated the first phase of the third link of the Saurashtra Narmada Avataran Irrigation Yojana (SAUNI).

In Rajkot, Modi also participated in a 10-km long road show from Aji dam to Rajkot airport.

Rajkot is the principal city in the Saurashtra region that is dominated by the Patels, or Patidars, who constitute about 14% of the state’s population. Members of the community led by 23-year-old Hardik Patel have been protesting against the state government. The once-dominant agrarian community wants reservation in educational institutions and government jobs. This is Modi’s fourth visit to Gujarat (he was chief minister of the state between 2001 and 2014) in an election year. His Bharatiya Janata Party’s national president Amit Shah has set an ambitious target for the party: winning over 150 of the 182 assembly seats.

Press Trust of India contributed to this story.

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