India shining meets Hindutva

Uma Bharti is getting serious. The newly elected chief minister of Madhya Pradesh (MP) has unleashed a development agenda built around the 'cow family', a literal translation of the Hindi term gauvansh, which simply means cattle. Cow slaughter (cattle slaughter, actually) has become a cognisable and non-bailable offence. She doesn't stop there. She dreams of a state dotted with gaushalas (cattlesheds). She has entrusted her minister Ramakant Tiwari with the full responsibility of developing a cow-based economy in MP. Inspired by the Netherlands, she has promised government-financed gaushalas along riverbanks to promote tourism, of all things...

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- UMA BHARTI is getting serious. The newly elected chief minister of Madhya Pradesh (MP) has unleashed a development agenda built around the 'cow family', a literal translation of the Hindi term gauvansh, which simply means cattle. Cow slaughter (cattle slaughter, actually) has become a cognisable and non-bailable offence. She doesn't stop there. She dreams of a state dotted with gaushalas (cattlesheds). She has entrusted her minister Ramakant Tiwari with the full responsibility of developing a cow-based economy in MP. Inspired by the Netherlands, she has promised government-financed gaushalas along riverbanks to promote tourism, of all things. No more shall tourists laugh about how cows are abandoned on Indian roads. No more shall people squirm at the sight of a cow dying a painful death after consuming plastic from the waste.

Bharti would have done well to realise why cows are abandoned and left to chew plastic cud. The common pastures (charnoi) where they used to graze earlier have all been encroached. In fact, the previous government's decision to distribute charnoi land to dalits and tribals had led to violent conflicts. Bharti would have done the ruminant a great favour by sorting out the conflicts and removing the encroachments. But that would require political will and foresight.

India has the largest livestock in the world, and it is mostly the poor communities that rely on animal rearing. The reason they are so poor -- and the livestock neglected -- is that successive governments have systematically slaughtered the resources on which the two survive. As a result, they are degrading whatever remains of India's forests and grasslands. The cow's holy status in India has a lot to do with the fact that the rural economy was entirely based on cattle -- draught power for farming and transport, dung for soil fertility and fuel, and milk for nutrition. But it would be too much to expect Bharti to recognise that. Her party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is known for having an urban bias. Two of the most important issues that helped her win the elections, roads and electricity, are the concerns of the rich, not the livestock-dependent poor. To reverse that requires social development, somthing that the BJP considers useless as compared to economic development of the kind that is anti-poor. It is well known that subsidies on power and oil have helped destroy livestock in India. Bharti's Hindutva can't save the cow. Recognising its economic efficiency will. And it will also help poor people. But that lesson can't be learned from the Netherlands.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.