Why Modi Is Right About The Cow Brigade

by Surajit Dasgupta - Aug 9, 2016 02:39 PM +05:30 IST
Why Modi Is Right About The Cow Brigade Getty Images News
  • It is good that no less than the chief executive of the country is moving from gauraksha (protecting the cow) to gauseva (serving the cow).

    If the most prominent politician of the country is provoking the right scientific and economic thought, he will be hailed as a statesman in posterity.

Many Hindu traditionalists, have reacted with dismay to Narendra Modi’s speeches on consecutive days condemning ‘fake’ cow vigilantes who have allegedly made an industry out of the cause. It appears they have disregarded the nuance the Prime Minister adopted as he appreciated those who served selflessly the animal revered by Hindus and suggested alternatives of using non-milch cows.

Modi, who himself belongs to the Other Backward Class (OBC), may not share his disapproving voters’ view. In any case, he is not the Prime Minister of the Sangh’s overzealous votaries alone. It was incumbent upon him to respond to the incidents of attacks on Dalits in different parts of the country in the name of protecting the cow.

The political movement against cow-slaughter began when large section of Hindus organised themselves in small groups to rescue cows from Muslims. These led to riots resulting in loss of human lives and property. This lent a communal colour to  the cow-protection movement. Although the cow-protection movement was initiated to usher in Hindu unity, many of its present day proponents seem to forget that a significant section of the Hindu population — comprising many Scheduled Castes — is involved in leather trade as well as consumption of beef. A certain number of Hindus are also involved in running tanneries and major export houses of beef.

The Sangh leadership has supported Modi’s stand on freelance cow vigilantism. The RSS has said, more or less, the same thing that Modi has through a two-paragraph statement issued by Bhaiyyaji Joshi — separating true cow rights activists from those who are taking undue advantage of the ‘saffronised’ atmosphere believed to be prevailing in the nation since the time the BJP came to power at the Centre and also won elections in several states.

The efficacy of keeping the cow at the centre of the village economy is doubtful. If a half-baked theory of agrarian economy is popular in a section of the right wing, citizens with scientific temper need not accept it. It is good that no less than the chief executive of the country is moving from gauraksha (protecting the cow) to gauseva (serving the cow), along the lines of Gandhi’s teachings that dealt with both biological and economic cycles of the cow in a manner distinct from how the cow vigilantes describe the cycles.

Of course, cow dung as manure in agriculture and dairy products as food are healthy ways of living. But the cow cannot be at the centre of a vibrant, futuristic economy — even the one that stays largely agrarian — as India must move from intensive to extensive farming involving large fields, less labour and much higher, disease-resistant crop yields to deal with hunger and food price rise. Maintaining cows is proving a problem even in the present rural scenario.

As far as science is concerned, when an animal is bred artificially in captivity, which the cattle are — unlike wild animals — its population cannot be prevented from exploding if none is killed. The earth cannot absorb all the naturally dying cattle either, through the process of decomposition alone. Alternative disposal methods are required. Tanneries are one alternative. This reason is over and above the political one that one has no right to dictate the dietary habit of another citizen.

There is certainly a need to develop a scientific temper in Indian society. The extreme right wing does come across as an anti-science, anti-market anachronism in modern society. If the most prominent politician of the country is provoking the right scientific and economic thought, he will be hailed as a statesman in posterity.

While the law against cow slaughter exists in several states, there is no sanction for a group of citizens to enforce the law by torturing or killing those who break the law. It is for the police to arrest and prosecute them.

Now one may ask ,why didn’t Modi speak up earlier? Well, the prime minister is not supposed to be an editor of a news channel or newspaper who has to react to headlines on a daily basis. The fact that he has said the right thing is more important than the time he chose to say it.

But how genuine is Modi’s Dalit concern? During a meeting between Modi, one of his biographers and this columnist in December 2013, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat had shared with us an anecdote from his days in Varanasi as a pracharak. He said he was pained by the attitude of some of his upper caste companions towards people they considered untouchable. During a visit to a temple, he paced faster towards the entrance of the shrine than his two companions, who happened to be from upper castes, and told the pandas at the gate that those men approaching the temple were Dalits. The priests accompanied some henchmen, stopped Modi’s friends on their way and roughed them up. That night while they were nursing their wounds, Modi asked them whether they now understood the pain of the downtrodden. They resolved, Modi said, never to ill-treat Dalits thereafter.

So as not to upset the upper castes before the 2014 election, the motivated biographer did not include the incident in Narendra Modi: The Game Changer. But the incident dates back to a period when Modi was nowhere near electoral politics at the centre. It calls the bluff of those who are going about the town telling people that Modi is wooing Dalits with an eye on the 2017 Uttar Pradesh election.

But if one must view everything through the prism of votes, here is a reality check. Modi’s speeches of 7 and 8 August will help stop exodus of fence-sitting Hindu voters who had experimented with the BJP during the 2014 election ― and have been wondering ever since what’s going on ― away from the party. Remember, every time the opposition raises a Muslim issue, it actually targets the fence-sitting Hindus, as they are assured that Muslims wouldn’t vote for the BJP no matter how much the party tries to woo them.

The polity believes — with a degree of truism — that Hindus are so soft-hearted that an association of anti-Islamic or anti-Christian sentiment with a political party is enough to drive them away from it. That section of the electorate is the target of the Congress, socialists and the Left. Dadri was overplayed to address urban, cosmopolitan Hindus, not to arouse Muslims. This section of Hindus, including those from upper castes, is also troubled by the perception of atrocities on Dalits.

Besides, Dalits were themselves moving towards the BJP, thanks to party president Amit Shah’s campaigns with Buddhist monks and dining at different Dalit households. The hue and cry of the opposition and media over the Una incident of cow vigilantism — and the disgusting remark by now expelled UP unit vice president Dayashankar Singh about BSP head Mayawati — threatened to reverse the process.

Some regional newspapers and little-known websites have claimed that the perpetrators of flogging and filming the sequence in Una have Congress links. Some right wingers have zealously tweeted the links and screenshots. But the influence social media can exert on the people at large pales in comparison to the impact of mainstream media. Modi had to react on the basis of the perception created by the latter.

Also Read:

The Cow Will Defeat BJP: It’s Time For Modi & Co To Speak Against Vigilantism

Modi On Gau Rakshaks: Why His Social Messaging Has To Take Centre-Stage

Surajit Dasgupta is National Affairs Editor, Swarajya.
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