Why cow politics is rearing its ugly horns in Modi's India

Kamal Mitra Chenoy
Kamal Mitra ChenoyJul 01, 2017 | 15:25

Why cow politics is rearing its ugly horns in Modi's India

The secular atmosphere in the country is steadily worsening. The Hindutva forces have for at least a century made the protection of cows a benchmark, of not only Hinduism, but also Indian-ness.

If you eat cow meat (beef), and now any cattle meat, you are allegedly transgressing Hindu religious law, which is overwhelmingly more basic and spiritually pure, than any Indian law.


In other words, Hindutva religion as understood by “religious” politicians is the one great law, clearly distinct from secular laws emanating from the Constitution, and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) overseen by Lord Macaulay in the mid-19th century. After all, God (and Hinduism has many) is above all earthly laws. The real problem is who has the right to interpret and wield divine law.

It is well known that various critical Hindu religious texts like the Rigveda had a lively discussion on beef eating, and allowed it as scholars have documented. Others like the Shankaracharya questioned the Rigveda principles and doctrines, not taking on some of several other Hindu texts which did not bar beef eating. So, there is plenty of evidence of alternate discourses in the Hindu texts, of which the Sangh Parivar has only cited those to its ideological-political benefit.

The Bhakti poets, Kabir, Mirabai and Tulsidas, accepted no such boundaries; nor did the Urdu poet saints like Ghalib, Baba Fareed and others.

But from the beginning of the Modi regime the Hindutva gauntlet was thrown down in an extraordinary statement by MoS (Food Processing Industries) Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti who clearly demarcated Indians as "Ramzadas" and "Haramzadas". No action was taken against her by the Modi government. So the attacks and lynchings of Muslims by self-styled cow vigilantes and "gau rakshaks", are a continuation of the same hate politics, especially in north India.


Since the Modi government took over, there have been at least 32 incidents of attacks on Muslims linked to cow slaughter or “illegal transport” of cows/buffaloes. As many as 23 people have been killed, from Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri to teenager Hafiz Junaid Khan travelling on a train. According to this news report, "this is a conservative estimate because many attacks may not have been covered in national media".

Prime Ministers from Jawaharlal Nehru to Indira Gandhi and VP Singh used to visit troubled areas, including places of communal tensions and riots. Indira Gandhi rode to Belchi on an elephant. Where has Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervened like this? His powerful voice has not been heard at the spots where innocents have been lynched.

As is well known, the Directive Principles Article 48 bans the slaughter of cows, milch and draught cattle. It is an indicative power unlike the Fundamental Rights. The suggested, non-binding ban under Article 48 is intended to “preserve and promote the breeds” of all milch and draught cattle, including the buffalo, mithun and yak. Are the gaushalas or cow shelters preserving or promoting the breeds of all cattle?


Anyone travelling or living in India must have seen thousands, if not more cattle, eating plastic bags and other rubbish without any care, much less provision of necessary fodder.

So, the main issue is not about the legal basis of cow (and cattle) slaughter, but justifying and endorsing Hindutva on the basis of a deliberate misreading of the Constitution, on which the media has tended to avoid debates on Article 48 and other laws. The ban on cow slaughter was originally introduced in several states by successive Congress governments in order to garner Hindu votes.

There is an object lesson in Indian politics — a secular party flirting with communalism can never defeat an organised communal campaign by a communal party.

But there is an object lesson in Indian politics — a secular party flirting with communalism can never defeat an organised communal campaign by a communal party.

But once the Hindu communal frenzy is unleashed, with secular forces divided and civil society showing increasing urgency to combat communal ideology and attacks, the political temperature is rising.

What about other burning issues facing the people? Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and development economist Jean Drèze in their book, An Uncertain Glory, in 2013, estimated that 68.7 per cent of the people were below the poverty line. To put it mildly, little action has been taken on this front.

The MGNREGA supposed to provide each rural labour dependent family 100 days of official minimum wages is in the doldrums. Earlier, there was some talk of increasing the wages from 100 days to 150 days per family. This did not happen. PM Modi initially called the MGNREGA a “monumental blunder,” making his own imperatives clear.

In the last year, only 47.5 per cent of the rural households received their wages in time. The others had to seek work at lower market wages. With the linking up of the Aadhar card and PAN card etc., the process of the rural families opening and maintaining accounts will become more difficult and time consuming.

Why not concentrate on empowering the rural poor to be followed soon by the urban poor? Why use the cow issue to sideline the problems of rural and urban poverty?

The Modi government seems to have got its priorities wrong despite its claims of economic growth belied by its failed demonetisation fiasco. Surely it can, and should, be more aware of pressing realities instead of divisive politics.

It must stand by the national slogan, “Satyamev Jayate”, the truth will triumph.

Last updated: July 01, 2017 | 15:25
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