Reaping political benefits?

Holy Cow!

By Poonam I Kaushish

“Gau mata” is once again being relished by our Hindutva brigade whereby protection of the holy cow has become de rigueur in nearly 20 States. The latest to rediscover its brand was the Principal District Judge in Gujarat’s Tapi averring, “All problems of Earth will be solved if cow slaughter is stopped,” while sentencing a man to life imprisonment and fine of Rs five lakh for illegally transporting 16 cattle.

Expressing dissatisfaction over all talk surrounding cow protection which has not been put into practice, he added, “Cow is the living planet of 68 crore holy places and 33 crore gods….’gaumutra’ cures many incurable diseases….and houses made of cow dung are not affected by atomic radiation… if cows are kept unhappy then our wealth and property disappears.”

Echoing a Rajasthan High Court judge’s statement declaring cow as a national animal and prescribed life-term for killing the animal on a petition by a NGO about the death of about 500 cattle in the shelter near Jaipur and the pitiable condition of cattle elsewhere. Heading the “voice of his soul”, he also listed out the virtues of Gau Mata and why it needed to be protected.

Perhaps, judges seem to be following in politicians footsteps. Asserted UP Cabinet Minister, “cow, Ganga and Gita’ are the identity of India and it’s a world leader,” recently. Added controversial BJP MP Pragya Thakur drinking cow urine cures lung infection from Covid and mixed with other cow products cured her cancer.  An UP MLA seconded her claim. Recall, ex-Prime Minister Morarji Desai was a great proponent of cow urine.

Recently, West Bengal BJP Chief stirred a hornet’s nest as he taunted beef eaters, “Why only cows, eat dog meat too…Our desi cows have gold mixed in their milkand if we drink it we will become healthy and can prevent diseases…. foreign cows are not our Gau Mata they are our aunties,  janwar.”

Pertinently, gau mata is not so much about the fate of the holy cow as it is about cynical political competitive politics which has for long held the collective imagination of politicians. Having re-discovered cow’s brand equity as a good vote-catcher among the majority community, the Saffron Sangh including BJP ably sponsored and pushed by Saffron-robed Ministers, netas and swamis has adroitly woven the bovine into its development tapestry upping the ante by making it the cause célèbre for their and the Party’s ambitious needs, a panacea to consolidate Hindu votes and milk it.

Today, it enjoys pride of place in its long-term strategy. More so, after Prime Minister Modi asserted, “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 16th and 17th centuries ……It is people with such views who leave no stone unturned to destroy the country”, at the National Animal Disease Control Programme launch in Mathura 2019.

Disconcertingly, gau rakshaks have taken the cue from their political mai-baap BJP and Modi-speak which is the driving force behind the spread and hardening of cow rights legislation across the country. Whereby, cow lovers coo that ban to protect the cow is justified and should be seen as a legal offense and not religious. Adding, it would be nice if minorities respect the sentiments of Hindus who consider cow slaughter as a sin.

However, not a few read this as a signal 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 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.

Undeniably, the idea of 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.

Ranging from setting up Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog for holding a  national exam on “cow science, 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,” Ministry dedicated to cow protection, setting up a gaushala in every panchayat, cow sanctuary and imposing a 20% cow cess on liquor etc.

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.

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 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.

Certainly, 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.

Notably, cow protection has been a live political issue for long and hotly debated.  Even the founding fathers debated the issue. Said Ambedkar: “Islamic law does not insist upon the slaughter of cow for sacrificial purposes and no Musalman when goes to Haj sacrifices cow in Mecca or Medina.”

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”.

In fact, cow protection 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.

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 and gau rashaks underscore once again there is no ‘sacred cow’ when it comes to garnering votes whereby the revered bovine suddenly transformers into a political Kamdhenu. Clearly, they must desist from reducing Gau Mata to a religious plank, political ping-pong, poll gimmick and profitable business in the quest for power. — INFA