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Cow: Political Ping-Pong: PULPING A RELIGIOUS BONE, By Poonam I Kaushish, 9 Aug, 2016 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 9 August 2016

Cow: Political Ping-Pong


By Poonam I Kaushish


“Gau mata” is once again becoming a convenient political tool for our Hindutva brigade. They are back to their favourite pass time: Minority bashing and protection of the cow. Having re-discovered the holy cow’s brand equity as the best vote-catcher, no matter, if it becomes a hot potato!


Predictably, all hell broke lose last month when the public flogging of four Dalit men in Gujarat’s Una town for allegedly killing the cow they were skinning went viral on social media. And naturally, politicians of all hues rushed there to milk the political fallout of the incident. Democracy and secularism in danger, the favourite whipping boys were freely bandied about by the Congress, JD(U) etc.


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, any action taken to protect the cow is justified, even if it means taking the law into their hands. That the rakshaks arrogance finally did them in is another matter. 


In fact, Una is the latest in a series of vicious incidents of people being forced to eat cow dung, Dalit men being stripped, tied to a car and beaten by cow vigilante groups. Recall, the horrific lynching of a Muslim for consuming beef in Dadri last year which marked the revival of cow politics in India.


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 Hindus.


However, the cow and beef debate at this juncture is clearly not so much about the fate of the holy cow as it is about cynical competitive politics. Trust our netagan to make “Gau mata” the cause célèbre for milking in the race for power as three States UP, Punjab and Gujarat go to the polls next year.


Politically, for the BJP the fallout of Una could be significant due to the unexpected reaction from Dalits across the State. Large numbers protested, flung carcasses of dead cows in front of police stations and Government offices and are refusing to continue skinning dead cows. Till date the Party has not wooed Dalits in the belief it did not need their vote, as they comprise less than 8% of the population.


However, with elections looming in the Hindu hinterland it cannot afford to alienate them as it could lead to a possible consolidation of an anti-BJP grouping comprising Muslims and Dalits. As it stands Una and the earlier suicide of Dalit student in Hyderabad has given a fillip to Dalit agitations in the cow belt and a foothold for Dalit politics.


Consequently, BSP’s Mayawati is adroitly using Una and a UP BJP leader’s derogatory remarks about her, to her advantage as UP warms up to the forthcoming Assembly battle. Meanwhile Mulayam continues to bank on his Muslim-Yadav vote-bank.  


The Congress is also trying to capitalise on the Dalit agitation to regain some of its lost support base even as it rejects the BJP pitch for votes via cow politics. “We do not use the cow to woo voters. Religion and politics should not be combined,” states a senior Congress leader. He cites historical evidence of beef-eating practices by Hindus in ancient India to emphasise his point.


It remains to be seen how the BJP handles these developments. So far both Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah have maintained a studious silence. Even as detractors hope the two incidents will begin to unravel the Modi juggernaut.


There is no gainsaying that cow protection has been a live political issue for long in the country. 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”.


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.


True, the Gau mata is sacred to Hindus and is revered as Kamdhenu. 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.


Of course, no neta wants to get his teeth into an individual’s food preferences but it doesn’t stop them talking a lot of bull and relishing naked cow-trading. 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.


Either which way, this doublespeak about revering your cow and eating beef too is not about the fate of the holy cow but accentuates a cynical food-fight sells and how! Saffron-robed Ministers, netas, swamis and mullahs are recklessly playing the communal card. Politicising Hinduism to tailor to their ambitious needs and electoral gains where one man’s opium is another man’s poison.


A ban on the slaughter, eating and serving of certain types of animals and their meat is not uncommon across the globe. All Muslim-ruled countries have banned pork which, incidentally, is a lot more popular in India’s north-east than beef.


Contrary to popular belief, beef is not so popular in Pakistan. Only the poor or very poor eat cow’s meat called “burra gosht”, which is cheaper. Importantly, no one in the Arab world has starved because of a ban on the eating of pork.  


As blinkered, dogma-ridden debates rage on about beef bans and holy cows 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.


Our leaders need to remember India was conceived as a democratic rather than majoritarian country wherein minorities have certain basic rights. This is the essence of being secular. It is about tolerating differences and not beating it to a pulp with a meaty bone.


Time now to consider a ban on divisive politics. Remember, everyone, not just the gau drum beaters and beef-eaters have a st(e)ake in India. Let us not reduce the cow to a religious plank, political ping-pong or a poll gimmick in the quest for power, Mr Prime Minister. ----- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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