Cow Politics Back
By Poonam I Kaushish
Gau mata politics is once again back with a bang. “For some people, the moment the words gai and Om fall on their ears, their hair stands on end. They think the country has gone back to the 16th and 17th centuries ……It is people with such views who leave no stone unturned to destroy the country, ” asserted Modi at the launch of the National Animal Disease Control Programme in Mathura last week. Predictably, the Opposition rushed in to milk the political fallout accusing the Prime Minister of turning a blind eye to people being killed in the name of the bovine. Either way, the Holy cow has becomes a hot potato!
Certainly, this was music to the ears of our Hindutva Brigade who perceived it as NaMo being in sync with their thinking. Of using it as a potent symbol of threat to the Hindus from minorities communal bashing, pushing cow protection and cow rights legislation along-with banning its slaughter, religious sacrifice or eating beef as an integral part of its cultural and religious agenda.
However, it seems Modispeak on Gau mata is not so much about the fate of the holy cow as it is about cynical political competitive politics. Having re-discovered the cow’s brand equity as a good vote-catcher among the majority community, the BJP has adroitly woven the bovine into its development tapestry which brought it power at the Centre and in 19 States. Today, it enjoys pride of place in its long-term strategy and is included in its poll manifesto in various States.
Ably sponsored and pushed by Saffron-robed Ministers, netas and swamis who have upped the ante by making it the cause célèbre for their and the Party’s ambitious needs, a panacea to consolidate majority votes and milk it in the race for power in the forthcoming elections in three States Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand.
Ranging from protecting the bovine, setting up the Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog for “genetic upgrading of cow resources, conservation, protection and development of cows and their progeny, promoting a cow tourism circuit which will pass through places that breed indigenous cows, a Ministry dedicated to cow protection, setting up a gaushala in every panchayat, cow sanctuary and imposing a 20% cow cess on liquor etc.
More. The idea of the cow has crowded out all else. Wherein cow-centredness — politics, society, morality, science, economics, livelihoods and the lack of them are all focused on the revered bovine. Four examples: BJP-ruled UP has budgeted Rs 600 crores for protection and welfare of cattle and cow shelters, has started an ambulance service for cows and a Rs 750 crore Rashtriya Gokul Mission.
The Uttarakhand Law Commission has recommended changes in the state’s Protection of Cow Progeny Act 2007 to declare cow as ‘rashtra mata’ and setting up veterinary centres for stray bovines. In Haryana, any person abandoning his/her cattle may be slapped with a hefty fine. Maharashtra has set up a Gau Seva Aayog as part of a new initiative to protect cattle seized by the police and initiate legal action.
Pertinently, the Congress too has jumped on the bandwagon and is trying to reposition itself to match the BJP’s Hindutva cow plank for future electoral battles. Over the past few weeks, the Party has been systematically espousing concerns for Gau mata. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath said he could not see the bovine suffer on the streets and vowed to set up 1000 shelters. His Rajasthan counterpart Gehlot plans to seize vehicles transporting illegal cows and honouring those who adopt them.
In fact, various other Opposition-ruled States too have jumped on the protect-the-cow bandwagon and are extending the Cow Slaughter Ban Act to bulls and bullocks, notwithstanding this has evoked criticism. Some have taken off beef from the menu as trucks carrying cattle continue to be attacked by rightwing activists. In Delhi the AAP Government is building advanced cow shelters which will be clubbed with old-age cow homes.
Disconcertingly, the gau rakshaks have taken Modispeak as a cue to continue minority bashing under the garb of cow protection, whereby, any action taken to protect the cow is justified, even if it means taking the law into their hands. The last few years stand testimony to horrific lynching and killing in UP’s Bulandshahr and Dadri, Haryana’s Ballabhgarh and Gujarat’s Una etc. The charges? Beef eating, killing a cow, carrying beef etc.
While patronage and ideological indoctrination is one reason for the spiral of vicious violence, the vigilantes get away with murder as leaders look the other way and justify any action taken to protect the cow, even if it means taking the law into their hands resulting in the Government reaping political capital by inciting communal passions. A win-win situation for both.
Notably, cow protection has been a live political issue for long in the country and hotly debated. Even the founding father had debated the issue at length. Article 48 reads: “The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle”.
Gau raksha was included as a Directive Principle of State policy. However, the Directive Principle does not provide for a total nationwide legislative ban on cow slaughter, which the Hindu fundamentalists have been demanding for long. Several agitations have taken place since 1966 when Parliament was sought to be gheraoed, resulting in police firing and deaths.
As many as ten Private Member’s Bills have been tabled in the Lok Sabha between 1985 and 2006. In 1979 the Janata Dal Government tabled an official Bill and Indira Gandhi wrote to States to enforce a ban. Two National Commissions studied the issue. But there is no Central Act.
Certainly, the Gau mata is sacred to Hindus and is revered as Kamdhenu and Matrika. Every bit of the cow is useful. It helps sustain rural economy, gives milk and even its urine has miraculous medicinal value. Therefore, it has a central place in religious rituals as well as free rein to roam in streets. Over the years, a majority of States have passed controversial slaughter laws which make killing local cows illegal.
Consequently, we have a wacky hodgepodge of cattle laws according to leaders’ political appetite. While some States have banned cow slaughter, others allow killing of old or sick cattle, several kill, ban or no ban and not a few require a “fit for slaughter” certificate, several kill, ban or no ban and not a few require a “fit for slaughter” certificate.
In the final analysis , people are now conscious of the fact that religion should not be mixed with politics In our political quicksand our leaders underscore once again there is no ‘sacred cow’ when it comes to garnering votes whereby it suddenly transformers into a political Kamdhenu. Clearly, they must desist from reducing the sacred bovine to a religious plank, political ping-pong, poll gimmick and profitable business in the quest for power, Mr Prime Minister. —– INFA