The Supreme Court's ruling against cow vigilantism makes both the states and the Centre responsible for its prevention
Bovine politics has been dealt an official blow. The Supreme Court, responding to a number of petitions, has declared that cow vigilantism "must stop" and has directed all states to appoint a senior police officer in each district as nodal officer to ensure that cow vigilantism is checked. The court also asked the state chief secretaries to file status reports on the actions being taken to prevent such violence. The Centre, too, must do the same. So the Supreme Court has made the seniormost echelons of the administration accountable for further incidents of lynching in the name of the cow. The prime minister had made a righteous statement against cow vigilantism after it had been established, unofficially, as State-approved violence for a while, especially in the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states. The violence did not stop. That is not surprising. Messages from leaders of the BJP, particularly the prime minister, usually have two wavelengths: what can be heard by one segment of the population and what is interpreted by another. That is the gift of polarization, the BJP's favourite instrument of rule.
Time will tell if the compliance of the state administrations to the Supreme Court's direction will make a difference. The BJP's bovine politics may be a crude way to target minority communities and groups, but it is also a means of consolidating those in the majority community who thrive on faith-derived prejudice. There are some subtler advantages that override, for the party and its cohorts, concerns about the damage to the once flourishing leather and meat industries. Giving the cow close to a mythical position allows the building of anything from university departments and research institutes to clinics and hospitals dedicated to the cow and its effluents - its milk, urine and faeces. That is a lot of money - for the benefit of bovine experts alone.
There have been a few slip-ups though. A politics that leads to the killing of human beings of particular groups on the pretext that they are eating beef or storing it, or transporting it illegally even if they have the proper papers, must vindicate itself by providing shelters for aged cows which farmers are not allowed to sell for slaughter. Yet while Yogi Adityanath's pious aggression threatens to wipe out even legal meat shops and abattoirs in Uttar Pradesh, 152 cows die of starvation within five months in a Kanpur shelter. Patronized by the rich and powerful, the shelter earns crores in donation. Who is eating up all the fodder then? In a shelter run by a BJP leader in Chhattisgarh, which again is far from short of funds, 200 cows starved to death in two days. This upset the villagers, who worship the cow. Twenty-five cows died of starvation after paralyzing rains in a Haryana shelter. Can there be a new fodder scam? Surely not. Maybe the courts will now have to institute a search for the missing fodder.