Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday hit out at critics who argue that the mention of words 'Om' and 'cow' takes India centuries back, saying they are hell-bent on damaging the country.
The Opposition slammed Modi for the remark, asking him to talk about the economy instead and get alarmed when people are killed in the name of the cow.
Modi took a jibe at unnamed critics as he launched a nationwide programme in Mathura to save livestock from the foot and mouth disease, delivering 600 million vaccine shots to farm animals over the next several years.
Beginning with “Radhey, Radhey,” a customary greeting in the ‘Brajbhoomi' around Mathura, Modi promoted cleanliness, spoke against single-use plastic and invoked the 9/11 attack on America this day 18 years ago to indirectly condemn Pakistan for nurturing terrorism.
"There is a country called Rwanda in Africa. I had gone there. In Rwanda, there is a unique programme, where the government gives cows to villages with the condition that the first female calf born to the cow is taken back and given to those who do not have a cow," he said.
"This way a chain operates. And their endeavour is that in Rwanda every household should have a cow, milk production and animal rearing, which forms the base of the economy. I have myself seen how a network to earn livelihood through a cow has been established there," Modi said.
"But it is unfortunate that in our country the moment the word 'Om' falls on the ears of some people, they get alarmed ('baal khadhe ho jaate hai')," he said, without naming anyone.
"They also get alarmed by the word 'cow'. They feel as if that the country has gone back to the 16th or the 17th century,” he said.
Mocking this “gyaan” (wisdom) of the critics, he said such people are hell-bent on damaging the country.
He wondered whether anyone can imagine an economy without animal husbandry.
"In the life of rural India, animal husbandry is very valuable. Can a family in a village survive without it? But I don't know why some people get an electric shock on hearing the word," Modi said.
In Delhi, the Congress said the remarks were any attempt to "divert and digress" from the state of the economy. Communist Party of India general secretary D Raja agreed.
"He is saying this at a time when in the name of cow and God, mob lynchings are happening unabated across the country,” Raja said.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Assaduddin Owaisi said people do not just hear 'Om' and 'cow' in India but also the call for prayer from mosques, voices from gurdwaras and bells from churches.
Nationalist Congress Party MP Majeed Memon said Modi is the prime minister of a secular country and he should not refer to religious matters too often.
"He is not a dharma guru,” Memon said.
Earlier, Modi said environment and livestock were always at the core of India's economic thought and philosophy.
“And hence, be it Swachh Bharat or Jal Jeevan Mission or promoting agriculture and animal husbandry, we always try to maintain a balance between nature and economy."
In his 40-minute speech, the prime minister also brought up the terror attack on America this day in 2001.
"Today terrorism has become an ideology which has transgressed every border. It is a global problem and has become a global threat whose strong roots are getting nourished in our neighbourhood," he said in an apparent reference to Pakistan.
He said the entire world needs to take a pledge against this ideology, against those who are taking it forward and those giving shelter and training to terrorists.
"There is need for strong action," he said. "India is fully competent to face the challenge. We have shown this and will also show it in future."
Modi said his government's effort to strengthen anti-terror laws is a step forward in this direction.
“September 11 is also a special day for another reason, as it was on this day a century back when Swami Vivekananda delivered his historic address in Chicago,” he said.
"Through that speech, the entire world thoroughly understood the culture and tradition of India. But it is unfortunate that on that very September 11, the 9/11 terrorist attack took place in the US, and it shook the entire world."
Modi launched the National Animal Disease Control Programme to control foot and mouth disease and bacterial infection brucellosis in livestock. The Centre will spend Rs 12,652 crore to vaccinate over 600 million animals in a programme stretching up to 2030.
He also inaugurated the National Artificial Insemination Programme.
Asking people to shun single-use plastic, Modi said its wanton use posed a hazard to the environment and led to livestock and fish being killed.
Before the address, Modi joined a group of women in segregating plastic from waste at a 'Swachhta Hi Seva' programme.
He sat with a group of women workers, symbolically helping them sift waste to drive home the message against plastic.
Modi said following Mahatma Gandhi's preaching on saving the environment, people should make their homes and offices free of single-use plastic by October 2.
All photographs: ANI Photos