During its time in the opposition, the Congress repeatedly cornered the BJP government led by Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan over cow vigilantism, accusing the saffron party of tacitly abetting, through its policies, the violence in the name of the cow.
But while campaigning for the Assembly elections, the issue of mob lynching and violence in the name of the cow was rarely taken up by the Congress, which by then had pledged in its manifesto a slew of welfare schemes for the bovines, including increasing grants for cow shelters.
During the campaign for the Behror seat in Alwar district, the Congress shied away from mentioning the lynching, in that area, of dairy farmer Pehlu Khan in April 2017. Even then, the Congress candidate was edged out by the Independent Baljit Singh Yadav, who had made the point in his campaign that “innocent” Yadav men should not be “framed” for Pehlu Khan’s killing.
Now in power, the Congress seems to be in a dilemma over its policy towards the animal that is revered and worshipped in the Rajasthani heartland, and can potentially contribute to inflaming mass passions.
And despite its repeated criticism of the policies of the “communal” BJP, and its allegation that the Opposition party indulges in reckless “cow politics”, the Congress has, a month into ruling Rajasthan, demonstrated a policy towards the animal that appears to be very similar to the BJP’s.
Therefore, even apart from the promises in its manifesto, the new government has decided that on Republic Day and Independence Day, those who adopt cows would be felicitated.
Pramod Bhaya, the Minister for ‘gopalan’, has underlined that the party worships the cow, and that it was during Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s previous tenure that the first grants to cow shelters were provided.
He has also said that his department is looking to launch a large array of initiatives for the welfare of bovines in the state.
In the assessment of the Congress, it does not gain much by openly criticising violence over cows or siding with Muslim cattle transporters who accuse vigilantes of harassment; rather, it runs the risk of alienating a large Hindu votebank from communities such as the Yadavs and Jats.