The fact that politicians can go to any length to win elections and retain power is no secret. This was very much in evidence in the debate over the issue of banning cowslaughter. Digvijay Singh, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, tried to rework a pet project of the Bharatiya Janata Party to his advantage. Not only to keep his Hindu vote bank intact, but also to make a dent into that of the BJP, Singh wrote a letter to the prime minister, seeking a ban on cow slaughter. This stance projected him as the protector of the cow and also of the Hindu sentiment.
In the Seventies, there had been agitations against cow slaughter, and the Central government had to introduce a constitutional bill to stop the killing of cows. Once this happened, the public lost interest in the issue, which was raked up from time to time by the communalists for political gains. Small wonder that this bill lapsed in 1980. Digvijay Singh seems to have given life to the issue all over again.
Fodder for politics
It was in the later Vedic age that a consensus was built against the killing of cows. Religious sanction was necessary to protect cows from extinction. Since then a lot of folklore and religious myths have made the cow one of the most sacred animals among the Hindus. With the vogue of myths like that of the celestial cow “kamdhenu”, who showered abundance on all worshippers, fact and fiction became almost synonymous. Hindus began worshipping the cow. Disregarding the fact that there are other milch animals like the buffalo, it is the cow that is regarded as sacred.
When Digvijay Singh wrote to the prime minister, he did so as a chief minister, and not as a leader of the Congress. But he made it imperative for the Congress, which had detached itself from the issue so far, to take a definite stand on it. More so because of the assembly elections which are just around the corner.
Undoubtedly, the BJP will exploit the issue to its fullest for its political interest. The Congress needs to have a strong stand to counter that of the BJP. For instance, both camps will pounce on the northeastern states which do not have any sentiments about the cow and have been feeding on the animal’s meat for centuries.
There is an ironic side to the treatment of cows in India. Cows are often left uncared for and starving. Emaciated cows are a common sight. They are beaten by Hindus themselves, who use cows, like any other animal, to earn their livelihood.
In raising the issue of cow slaughter, Digvijay Singh has put himself in difficulty at two levels. He has put the Congress central leadership in a fix by forcing it to take a definite stance. He finds himself in an unenviable position because the prime minister has made the cabinet approve a legislation for banning cow slaughter. It is likely that the people will believe in the sincerity of the prime minister’s move and not Digvijay Singh’s because the BJP has been fighting over this for a long time.
Already, 23 states have banned cow slaughter. The ban does not exist in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and the Union territory of Lakshwadeep. The Central ban is unlikely to force any new state to impose a similar ban, because to impose a ban on cow slaughter falls within the jurisdiction of the individual states, according to Article 252 of the Constitution.
The ban exists only on paper even in the states where it has been enacted. Instead of slaughtering old cows, it is the young milch cows that are being slaughtered. The reason is that the meat of the latter has a better market than the meat of the old cows. Both Singh and the BJP have done enough to incite the passions of Hindus, and this could well provide the setting for riots and other disturbances in the country.
The cows do not stand to gain anything. Ban or no ban, they will continue to be slaughtered and neglected and remain uncared for. They may enjoy a few days of happiness and pampering before the elections, but soon, it will be business as usual.