Congress playing cow politics too, ignores farmer concern
If Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s temple tours before the last set of assembly elections wasn’t enough of a signal that the party was trying to change the public narrative about it, the newly-elected government in Madhya Pradesh, led by former commerce minister Kamal Nath, has now arrested people suspected of cow slaughter under the draconian National Security Act (NSA) in quite the same manner that the earlier BJP government in the state was doing. It appears, Nath is even considering a Yogi Adityananth-style cow cess to fund the building of cow shelters in the state. There is no doubt that, in many states like Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, there is illegal slaughter of young cows—with the police either unable to control it or in thrall of those killing the cows—and, so, action needs to be taken. But any action that is taken has to be in keeping with the normal provisions of the law, not the NSA that is meant for extraordinary terrorist events and allows for detention without the same level of proof.
Whether the Congress’ me-too will resonate well with the electorate in May remains to be seen, but what is unfortunate is that neither the Congress nor the BJP is addressing the real issue which is the concerns of farmers over stray cattle destroying their crops and creating a law and order situation. When cows stop giving milk, what is the farmer to do with them? As this newspaper has pointed out, on average 13-15 million buffaloes and cattle are slaughtered every year, and this process got halted when the Central government came out with its new slaughter rules in 2017; more so, this gave a big impetus to self-styled gaurakshaks and even the killing of buffaloes got affected. Based on a rough cost of Rs 60 per day, having to feed these animals would cost farmers around Rs 30,000 crore in a year; that is the first-year costs, the numbers would keep adding up since 13-15 million is the number killed every year. It was the entire livestock industry getting put out of gear that saw farmers simply abandoning their old cows and this, then, led to these animals destroying crops.
Since the Central law now allows routine slaughter to be carried out—the rules were changed in April last year—both the Congress and the BJP need to reassure farmers that they do not have to abandon their cattle but can take them to legal slaughterhouses. In addition, a crackdown on the gaurakshak terror is required since that is aggravating the issue. At the same time, however, since there is illegal killing of young cows, the state governments need to ensure the police crackdown on the menace, but not while using draconian laws like the NSA. With the elections around the corner, though, no political party is looking for lasting solutions, it is just popular sentiment that needs to be harnessed.