PM Modi’s Silence On Cow Politics Is A Well-Planned Hindutva Strategy

We now live in a nation where the word ‘cow’ cannot be uttered in films. The Central Board of Film Certification recently censored the word in a documentary on the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.

Elsewhere, Union Minister Mahesh Sharma compared Narendra Modi to Gandhi: “Today among us, we are fortunate to have another Gandhiji in the form of our prime minister who is like an inspiration.”

These two seemingly unrelated, and farcical acts are in fact interlinked and serious and have very dangerous implications for the nation.

When the nation has been convulsed by lynchings of people (overwhelmingly Muslims) in the name of cow (97 % of cow-related attacks in the last eight years have happened since the Modi government took over), the word cow has acquired a different connotation.

What the Censor Board’s act shows is that the violence committed in the name of cow is not just a physical act undertaken by ‘uneducated’, lumpen Hindutva elements, but is also a mental and aesthetic exercise, and enjoying the sanction of the state.

Simultaneously, there is a parallel process going on, which seeks to build a halo around Narendra Modi. That is why the comparison of Mr. Modi with Gandhi, who was acclaimed as the Mahatma. The signs of this were already seen last year when Mr. Modi appeared on a government calendar sitting at a charkha.

What this symbolic conflation does is to ignore the role Mr. Modi has played in bringing cow-protection in an aggressive manner to the forefront of the Hindutva agenda. Through the 2014 election campaign, Mr. Modi spoke about the ‘pink revolution‘. As he defined it: When you slaughter an animal, then the colour of its meat is pink. This is what they call a ‘Pink Revolution’”. 

Mr. Modi went onto castigate the Manmohan Singh government for making India the largest beef exporter. As the media website Scroll reported, Mr. Modi made several such speeches including ones which sought a national cow-protection law or that which eulogized King Maharana Pratap as ‘someone who sacrificed young men to protect the cow’! He also expressed pride in the enacting of a cow-protection law in Gujarat.

Mr. Modi’s deafening silence in the face of repeated lynchings is now so routine that it does not evoke any surprise. The couple of times he did speak on the lynchings, it was in general terms without ever naming the victim. The latest was on 16th July; but then he denied that there is a communal or political angle to lynchings!  

After the recent lynching of the 16-year old boy, Junaid Khan, Mr. Modi stated that Gandhi would not approve of killing in the name of cow worship and India is a land of non-violence.

What Mr. Modi chose to ignore was what Gandhi actually said on the matter of cow protection. Gandhi argued: “In India, no law can be made to ban cow-slaughter. I do not doubt that Hindus are forbidden the slaughter of cows. I have been long pledged to serve the cow but how can my religion also be the religion of the rest of the Indians? It will mean coercion against those Indians who are not Hindus.”

Although Gandhi was not as radical as Ambedkar to point out that even Hindus ate beef, Gandhi is not just against killings in the name of the cow, but also against a cow-protection law, which is what the BJP government wants to impose in every state in India. So, there is a serious misrepresentation of Gandhi when Mr. Modi evokes him.

In the above speeches by Mr. Modi on cow protection, one can also see that the terms animal, beef, and cow are all interchangeably used. When Mr. Modi fulminated on beef exports, he fails to mention that India’s beef exports constitute of buffalo meat and not cow meat. One wonders then whether a ban on all kinds of meat is not the ultimate Hindutva agenda. Therefore, it is no surprise the recent law on cattle slaughter, which was suspended by the Supreme Court, covered not just the cow.

In this context, it is pointless, as many civil society groups and parties tend to, ask the prime minister to break his silence on lynchings. The silence is not an accident; it is intrinsic to the political agenda of a majoritarian religious agenda. That is why, in contrast to lynchings by Hindutva groups, Mr. Modi condemns the Islamist terror attacks on Amarnath yatris or even those in Europe with alacrity.

Rather than ask Mr. Modi to break his silence each time there is a lynching, there is a need to recognize his own role in the consecration of cow-protection as a central element of state policy. Instead of seeing Mr. Modi as somehow separate and above the Hindutva fringe, one needs to see the violent Gau Raksha Dals and the statesmanly prime minister as a part of a totality.

That Mr. Modi’s silence is not an accident was again reinforced by the elevation of Yogi Adityanath, an aggressive and violent campaigner on cow protection, as the chief minister of UP. It is worth noting here that Adityanath, until a few months ago, was considered by his own party as an extremist fringe element.

If we recognize this fundamental transformation, then we will realize that the ongoing campaign to create a new law against mob lynching called MASUKA (Manav Suraksha Kanoon), while well-intentioned, does not address the root cause of the problem. Cow vigilante groups are flourishing not because of ineffective laws but because they enjoy state patronage and protection from BJP leaders. As the writer George Orwell noted decades ago: “The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country… if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.” 

India is going through a dangerous phase in its history when communal tensions are boiling over again. While the holy cow becomes more holy, Narendra Modi acquires an aura, himself becoming a holy cow. Even jokes about the prime minister turn into blasphemy and will invite the attention of the police as the comedy group All India Bakchod discovered recently.

Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran had once declared: “An Islamic regime must be serious in every fieldThere are no jokes in IslamThere is no humor in Islam.”

The Hindu Rashtra, ironically, is a mirror image of its arch enemy—Islamic theocracy.

This article was originally published in Malayalam in Mathrubhumi and has been translated by the author.

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