The Right Honourable Holy Cow

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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The senselessness of a ministry for one animal in Madhya Pradesh

COW PROTECTION HAS a long history in India. As far back as 1882, the Arya Samaj established a cow protection committee, and in a book, Gokarunanidhi: Ocean of Mercy for the Cow, its founder Dayanand Saraswati, wrote, ‘Mark, that is the reason why the prices of milk and its derivatives butter etc. and the prices of oxen and other animals have gone up more than ten times during the last seven hundred years, for it was during the last seven hundred years that flesh eating foreign races who started slaughter of cow and other animals came in considerable number and inhabited India… Oh flesh eater, will you or will you not desist from eating the flesh of man when after sometime the flesh of animals is not available because animals become extinct.’

This is an economic argument in which both the data and conclusions are suspect. It is hard to see how the present value of a price of a cow 700 years ago could have been known to Saraswati. Secondly, even if it were true, a tenfold jump in 700 years is a price rise of less than 0.5 per cent annually, which cow owners won’t even register. Also, conveniently sidestepped is the fact that a large number of Hindus, especially of lower-castes, ate cow meat before the ‘flesh eating foreign races’ came. And finally, even if all of what Saraswati says is true, he couldn’t have foreseen the industrial farming of animals of modern times which makes his fear that India will run out of cows, butter and milk irrelevant.

If the economic arguments are redundant, then all that remains is an emotional one: ‘Because I have been told the cow is holy, I feel pain when it is killed and eaten, and therefore no one should do it either. What must be repulsive to me, as decided by my Brahminical heritage, is what must decide the values of everyone in society.’ From here, it is a short jump to what is righteous must be enforced. It is with this proposition that Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, has just announced a cow ministry to address what must be a sorely pressing necessity in his mind. Or, what he thinks is in the mind of voters who will soon decide whether to bring him back to power. A PTI report quoted him as saying, “The cow ministry will replace the existing Madhya Pradesh Gaupalan Evam Pashudhan Samvardhan Board because it has limitations,” adding that an independent ministry can help serve cows in a much better way. Before Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, another BJP-ruled state, had the honour of creating a cow ministry.

The question really is whether he is going to get one extra vote because of a cow ministry. Those who are obsessed with cow protection are BJP voters anyway. What it is certain to achieve is to bloat government, not exactly the ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’ that the party promised. Maybe the cow minister should be a cow too. That would make the circle of veneration complete.