Holy Cow: Indian Political Chessboard

Written by Ram Puniyani | Published on: August 13, 2019

Lynching alone has not been the only fallout of making the Holy Cow central to the agenda of Hindu nationalist BJP and its co-travellers towards Hindu Rashtra. In the dreaded phenomenon of lynching, the major victims have been the religious minorities and dalits, as highlighted in the letter of 49 eminent film and other personalities. This is just the beginning of the story about Cow. Much more is in store.

cows in India

Now, Shrikant Sharma, a Minister in the Yogi Cabinet in UP, has announced a scheme whereby those tending to stray cattle will be paid Rs 30 per day and the Government has budgeted Rs. 110 crores for the same. This has been necessitated as the stray cattle, particularly Cows, have increased tremendously in number due to the vicious atmosphere created by the Cow vigilantes. These cattle are attacking the fields of the farmers, causing a huge loss to the already sagging agrarian economy. Many an accidents are taking place due to the large number of stray cattle.

Another point, which most of us missed, was the one mentioned in the Election Manifesto of BJP (2019). It promised the formation of ‘National Cow Commission’ (Rashtriya Kamdehenu Aayog) with a budget of Rs 500 cores. This commission will plan to set up Kamdhenu Chairs in Universities, for the study of and increasing awareness about the virtues of the Cow. This commission has the task of setting up housing colonies around cowsheds and medical shops for Cow products, among others. While one needs to welcome the development of rural economy, where the cattle find more organized and scientific utilization, singling out the Cow for this honour is a purely political ploy.

One more fallout of Cow vigilantism has been the coming up of many groups involved in extortion from the cattle traders and transporters. Niranjan Takle, an investigative journalist, found out that the going rate for transporting trucks with Cows is Rs 15000 per truck and for buffaloes, it is Rs 6500 per truck. This is for half the part of the travel. He could find this out by posing as a cattle trader called Rafiq Qureshi.

This extortion is related to leather trade as he points out that after the slaughter the leather is to be given to the middle men. These vigilante groups also resort to intermittent violence to keep up the pressure, which keeps the regular extortion racket going.
The other interesting point is that, while on the one hand, India is inching towards the top of the table in lynching incidents, on the other hand, it is also emerging as the top exporter of beef. Contrary to the popular notion, the major people profiting from this trade are not Muslims but Hindus/Jains. Look at some of these companies which lead in beef export - Al Kabeer, Arabian Exports, MKR Frozen Food, Al Noor, etc. Their names give an impression that they are owned by Muslims. The fact is, most of them are owned by Hindus or Jains.
This Cow/beef issue has been brought up mainly for the agenda of polarization. There are claims that there have been no major riots during BJP rule. The fact is that, while no spectacular riots have been orchestrated, low intensity violence and lynching around the Cow/beef issue have been marshalled to achieve this purpose of polarization to a greater effect. We know that Cows were sacrificed during the Vedic period and beef was consumed. Apart from the scholarly works of Dr. Ambedkar (‘Who were the Shudras’) and Prof D. N Jha (‘Myth of Holy Cow’), Swami Vivekananda draws our attention to the same fact. He points out that Cow meat was consumed during the Vedic period. It was also the object of sacrifice in the Vedic rituals. While speaking to a large gathering in USA, he said: “You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef. On certain occasions he must sacrifice a bull and eat it.” (Vivekananda, cited in Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 3 (Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1997), p. 536.)
While the currently prevalent Hindu nationalism draws mainly from the RSS stock, the other main Hindu nationalist stream has been that of the Hindu Mahasabha, to which Savarkar belonged. He is a great inspirational figure for the RSS combine, but had a different opinion on the Cow. He said that the Cow is the mother of bulls not of humans. Also, that it is a useful animal and should be treated as such. In Vigyan Nishta Nibandh (Pro Science Essays), he writes that Cows should be protected because they are useful to humans, not because they are divine. Among the two streams of Hindu nationalism, RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, RSS is the one ruling the roost, and is using Cow as an identity issue to divide the society.
Interestingly, the same BJP, which is creating such mayhem in the name of the Cow in large parts of North India, is quiet on this issue in Kerala, Goa and the North East. On the eve of Independence, Dr. Rajendra Prasad approached Mahatma with an appeal to get Cow slaughter banned. Gandhi’s reply is an ideal which should guide our plural society. “In India, no law can be made to ban cow slaughter. I do not doubt that Hindus are forbidden the slaughter of cows. I have long pledged to serve the cow, but how can my religion also be the religion of the rest of the Indians? It will mean coercion against those Indians who are not Hindus…. It is not as if there were only Hindus in the Indian Union. There are Muslims, Parsis, Christians, and other religious groups here. The assumption of the Hindus, that India has now become the land of the Hindus, is erroneous. India belongs to all who live here."

So, while the country waits for welfare measures to raise the indices of our social life, the BJP rulers are more focused on allocating budget on Cow tending or promotionor pseudo research, which, in no way, serves the purpose of much needed social welfare.