January 23, 2003
Now that Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh’s deep affinity for holy mother cow has been loudly proclaimed — chiefly his reported taste in gau mutra (cow’s urine) and his belief in gau dung as excellent fertiliser — you would have to be dumb cattle not to realise that the cow has always been a potent political instrument in the hands of India’s rulers.
With elections around the corner, Diggy Raja has clearly decided to take the bull by the horns and attempt to destroy the sangh parivar’s monopoly on Hinduism and nationalism. After all it was only a mere fortnight ago when he launched a jhanda ooncha rahe campaign to honour the Tricolour and there is thus reason to believe that with patriotism well hoisted, Singh is now determined to prove that as far as Hinduism is concerned: when you gotta gau, you gotta gau. Since gaumata is a crucial feature of the sangh’s definitions of Hindutva, Digvijay is clearly refusing to be cowed down by the BJP’s ownership of our sacred quadruped.
Gaumata has had a long political career. Mughal emperors like Akbar and Jehangir imposed restricted bans on cow slaughter. Shivaji declared that Hindus musn’t witness the killing of cows. The founder of the Arya Samaj, Dayanand Saraswati, used the cow as a symbol of national unity. Several riots through the ages have been spurred by reports of slaughter of cows.
Tilak’s first campaigns centred around safeguards for the life of the cow and, in the seventies, Vinoba Bhave went on a hunger strike against cow slaughter. The VHP’s gau-raksha campaigns began the era of aggressive Hindutva and for groups seeking to emphasise the anatagonism of Islam to Hinduism, the so-called Muslim attack on the cow has been seen as a fundamentally hostile stance against the majority community.
No wonder the book, The Myth of the Holy Cow by D.N. Jha, in which the author provided instances of cow slaughter in the ancient period, been banned. When politics operates in an overwhelmingly agrarian and pious land, its symbols are naturally bovine.
Not that gau mutra isn’t healthy. Those who have sampled it, swear by its scientific rejuvenating effects and the properties of cow dung are in evidence all over the rural countryside, not just as fertiliser but also as fuel. Digvijay’s gau campaign thus isn’t complete hogwash, although it shows that in Indian politics you can never say gau man gau.
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