Between 2007 and 2016, the BJP government of Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh had booked at least 22 people under the National Security Act for suspected cow slaughter. The state has changed hands since then, but Kamal Nath’s Congress government seems to be just as enthusiastic about using maximum legal force on this issue. The state party spokesperson has stated that the Congress is sensitive to bovine matters, and indeed, during the election campaign, it had promised to establish a cowshed in every panchayat. Meanwhile, the BJP has approvingly noted that its successor in Bhopal is continuing its policies with the forthcoming general elections in mind. The use of the NSA, which represents maximum legal force, is deplorable twice over. First, the MP Prohibition of Cow Slaughter Act is specific, but the NSA, a draconian law, was invoked because it allows detention for upto a year. Second, it appears to have been a response to a threat of public unrest by the Bajrang Dal. By all accounts, one group of people was arrested to placate another group, which is outrageous.
Madhya Pradesh is not the only state where the Congress has been showing its commitment to the cow, and taking forward the legacy of a BJP government. In the last week of December, the cow welfare department of the Congress government of Rajasthan passed an order encouraging people to adopt indigent cows. Again, the BJP pointed out that this was a routine step initiated by its government before it was voted out of office. It was blocked by the imposition of the model code of conduct, and the BJP was happy to find the Congress finally doing its bit for cows. This could actually have been a humane initiative for bettering the lives of unwanted cattle and preventing them from damaging standing crops, rather than a continuation of Hindutva policy. But the Congress’s sudden and excessive zeal for bovine welfare is bound to invite speculation over its political motives.
In seeking to electorally encash the cow, the Congress may fail to distinguish itself from its main opponent. And anyway, it must know that the cow is not an infallible investment. Chouhan had announced the establishment of a cow ministry days before the model code of conduct for the assembly election kicked in, but it did not appear to help his prospects.