Reaping political benefits?

Cow, Profitable Business

By Poonam I Kaushish

The drumbeaters are busy serenading the victorious in the keenly fought five States polls, the losers sulk behind closed doors amidst this “Gau mata” is once again back in the forefront for our Hindutva brigade. A convenient political tool to milk, rediscovering the holy cow’s brand equity as a profitable political business!
Think. 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.
It was no different last week when cow carcasses were found in UP’s Bulandshahr and all hell broke loose when rogue cow vigilantes patronised by the Bajrang Dal and the VHP went on a rampage alleging illegal cow slaughter resulting in the death of two including a police inspector. It is another matter that the inspector was the investigating officer in the Akhlaq lynching case of 2015 in UP’s Dadri wherein his family was accused of eating and storing beef in their refrigerator. Pertinently, all the 17 suspects he had booked are out on bail.
It is plausible that the criminals were spurred to action after a brief lull because their brand of poison seemed to have lost its potency in recent times, more so after the VHP’s Dharm Sabha in Ayodhya failed to generate a groundswell for a temple which worried the Sangh Parivar. Consequently, the focus on Gau Mata presently is not so much about the fate of the holy cow as it is about cynical competitive politics.
Besides, with the general elections a few months away trust our saffron-robed Ministers, netas, swamis to make “Gau mata” the cause célèbre for milking in the race for power at the Centre and recklessly play the communal card. Politicising Hinduism to tailor to their ambitious needs and electoral gains where one man’s opium is another man’s poison.
The BJP played its Hindutva card wrapped in development that brought it power at the Centre and in several States in recent electioneering and continues to do so while the Congress is now trying to reposition itself to match the BJP’s Hindu plank for future electoral battles. Of course, no neta wants to get his hands dirty in the slugfest but it doesn’t stop them talking a lot of bull and relishing naked cow-trading.
In the just concluded polls in five States it was amusing to see both the BJP and Congress leaders outbid each other offering the moon and stars including gau rakshak. While the BJP promised a ministry dedicated to cow protection in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress guaranteed to set up a gaushala in every panchayat. In Rajasthan, the Hindutva Brigade vowed to set up a cow sanctuary and imposed a 20% cow cess on liquor while its arch rival distanced itself from meo muslims lest it be accused of pandering to minorities.
Undeniably, cow care and its protection have often dominated politics owing to patronage from the BJP, which relies on Hindu votes. Thus, over the years, it has pushed cow protection as an integral part of its political agenda by including it in their manifesto to appease the majority community.
Disconcertingly, the gau rakshaks have taken the cue from their political mai-baap BJP which is the driving force behind the spread and hardening of cow rights legislation across the country. Whereby, the cow lovers coo that the ban to protect the cow is justified and should be seen as a legal offense and not religious. Adding, it would be nice if the minorities respect the sentiments of the majority of Hindus who consider cow slaughter as a sin.
Clearly, no lessons had been learned in the last three years since cow vigilantism reared its ugly head or remedial measures put in place post the public flogging of four Dalit men in Gujarat’s Una town for allegedly killing the cow they were skinning and forced them to eat cow dung in 2016 and lynching of a Rajasthan dairy farmer and the lynching of young Junaid accused of carrying beef on a train in Ballabhgarh last year.
Thus, 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.
Notably, cow protection has been a live political issue over the years. It was hotly debated by our founding fathers in the Constituent Assembly leading to cow protection being included as a Directive Principle of State policy. While 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”.
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.
True, the cow is sacred to Hindus and is revered as Matrika. Every bit of the cow is useful. 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.
Certainly, as blinkered, dogma-ridden debates rage on about holy cows it marks a dangerous political trend of intolerance towards minorities and mob violence. If this trend goes unchecked society will get dangerously fragmented. With politics and polls only on their agenda, the polity must desist from playing with fire and instigate their vote bank. Alongside, both communities have to learn to cohabit together and the BJP must rein in its ‘fringe’ elements who feel emboldened with a majority Government at the Centre.
In sum our leaders must learn to tolerate differences and not beat everything in to a pulp with a meaty bone. In our political quicksand the gau rashaks vs the cow slayers underscore once again there is no sacred cow when it comes to garnering votes and settling political scores. Whereby, the revered bovine suddenly transformers into a political Kamdhenu. Let us not reduce the cow to a religious plank, political ping-pong or poll gimmick and profitable business! —- INFA