The cow debate as India turns 70

The bhakts as the diehard supporters of the Sangh parivar and prime minister Narendra Modi are known all over the social media would do well to read (we know that they have a congenital allergy towards facts) the words of the original Hindutva ideologue and the father of the two nation theory Vinayakrao Dattrateya Sawarkar on the issue of cow:” When humanitarian interests are not served and in fact harmed by cow and when humanism is shamed, self-defeating extreme cow protection should be rejected.” Hasn’t humanism been shamed when the cow vigilantes have attacked the Dalits in Una?

One may have several ideological disagreements with Sawarkar but his views on the cow expressed through his ‘Vidnyan-Nishtha Nibandhs (pro Science Essays) in Marathi are an instructive reading for anyone interested in having a dispassionate Hindutva view about the cow. The Sangh Parivar that swears by Sawarkar should in particular be conscious of his opinions. He wrote: ‘To have a feeling of gratitude towards an animal that is so useful to us is particularly consistent with the Hindu trait of compassion towards all living beings. Animals such as the cow and buffalo and trees such as banyan and peepal are useful to man hence we are fond of them; to that extent we might even consider them worthy of worship…. Attributing religious qualities to it gives it a godly status. Such a superstitious mind set destroys the nation’s intellect.”

It is the merit of Sawarkar’s observation that such a superstition destroys a nation’s intellect that should engage us as India turns 70. The moot point being should a modern developing nation with its growth rooted in the concept of a knowledge based economy be engaged in such a debate? What does such a debate tell us about the character of our society especially when the idea of cow worship has been rejected by the original Hindutva icon more than 70 years ago? If Sawarkar had the foresight to project such views what is it that is pushing us backwards? In fact, in Sawarkar’s analysis the Hindu’s love for the cows was also responsible for the defeat of the Hindu kings at the hands of the Muslim invaders who would crowd the front lines in the battle fields with cows and then the Hindus would refuse to kill the cows and become easy preys for the Muslim attackers. In the 21st century, we may not suffer the fate of the Hindu kings of the yore, but surely our image as a modern scientific country would take a beating on the global stage with its attendant consequences.

ONE may have several ideological disagreements with Sawarkar but his views on the cow expressed through his ‘Vidnyan-Nishtha Nibandhs (pro Science Essays) in Marathi are an instructive reading for anyone interested in having a dispassionate Hindutva view about the cow.

There is one flaw with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is an avid tweeter and comments on anything and everything under the sun. But when it comes to sensitive issues related to the feelings of the Sangh bosses, the same Modi becomes tongue tied. It is true that he is beholden to the parivar bosses for his current position, but it is not that he occupies the chair at their pleasure which can be withdrawn. By far he is the most popular leader in the country and has been elected to the position, more due to his personal positioning-sabka saath, sabka vikas’ and less due to the ideological baggage that comes with the Sangh’s blessings. It is in his and nation’s interest that he speaks the right language at the right time, so that the nail is hit on the head.

The delay that has occurred in his coming out against the ‘self appointed gau rakshaks’ has extracted a very price from the nation. A message has gone round that these cow vigilantes are a law unto themselves and have the tacit support of the government and the ruling parivar. Nothing could be more detrimental than this impression for a modern country like India.

In the larger context, this over-emphasis on Hindutuva or the need to wear your patriotism on your sleeve is counter-productive in a nation that has had a more or less smooth run for the last 70 years without any such signs of aggressive nationalism. It is a given that unless otherwise proved each of the citizens is a patriot and a nationalist irrespective of his/her religious, caste and language identity. There is always a bonafide unwritten contract between the citizen and the country, and to question this arrangement or to demand jingoistic proofs for assertion of patriotism smacks of a juvenile approach to the whole question. A nation at 70 must behave with more maturity.

Ideally, this is a time when instead of the cow we should be debating issues that are crucial to our future as nation. Two years is a pretty long time for any government to make its mark, and the problem with the Modi Sarkar is that it has still not moved beyond slogans that have already started sounding hollow. The absence of a conscious strategy to handle long term problems is highlighted in our dealings with Pakistan. After nearly two years of wooing Sharif (through shawls, birthday visits etc) we are now in aggressive mode talking of Balochistan and the Pakistan occupied Kashmir. So, is it an acceptance that the first two years that began with an invite for the swearing-in ceremony have gone waste? No one is against change of strategies, but then India’s governance is not a matter of trial and error. Every step has to be a sure-footed one, and the decision makers have to ensure that it is not retraced. Or else failure is writ large on your moves.

In the last 70 years, India has moved with confidence to become a strong plural democracy that is respected not just for its biggest size but also for its resilience to stand firm in the face of four wars, hostile nuclear armed neighbours, and all the challenges of vast poor, illiterate and deprived society. The pariwar may not like this, but this has been achieved in spite of its cow ideology. There is a need to build on our past achievements, and this is the only way forward. Anything else spells disaster.

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