Why RSS pushes for the cattle-slaughter ban?

Kumudini Pati

On 30 May 2017, newspapers reported that the BJP Chief Amit Shah had rushed to Nagpur RSS HQ and was closeted with RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat in an in-camera meeting for the whole day on the previous day. Naturally, speculation was rife among journalists that the BJP had developed cold-feet in the face of massive opposition to its cattle-slaughter ban, especially in the southern States, which even threatened to precipitate a Constitutional crisis of sorts with Kerala and West Bengal defying the Centre’s ban and declaring that they would not implement it. They even threatened to pass their own laws to nullify the Centre’s order or go to court.

So a section of the media concluded that Amit Shah had rushed to Nagpur to plead with the RSS boss the case for a rollback and there was open speculation in several newspapers that after Modi returns from his European sojourn, a decision would be taken on the rollback and Amit Shah would get the clearance for that from their Nagpur high-command.

Some were opining that there could be partial lifting of the ban and buffalos might be exempted from slaughter ban, as India is emerging as one of the top beef exporting countries as slaughter and export of buffalo meat was legal until the recent ban.

The media reading of the complicated relationship between the RSS and the BJP falls broadly into two shades. One section thinks that RSS is dictating to BJP and the other section thinks that though Modi is in command, he is trying to keep RSS in good humour. Both are one sided.

In other words, one view is that RSS is setting the agenda and dictating to the BJP and the slavishly obedient BJP, having no other option, falls in line due to its political dependence.

The other view is that Modi’s vision is building India as a modern economic superpower with specific agendas like Digital India, Smart Cities, Start-Up India and Make-in-India and so on and, despite having these as priorities, more out of political filial loyalties and as he needs Sangh’s continued political support and blessings, he reluctantly tries to keep Sangh in good humour and concedes to its own petty priorities. In other words, in the view of these liberals, Modi is a reluctant Saffronite trying to carry along Sangh by obliging them on their otherwise petty concerns more as a political compromise. Some of them see the RSS agenda as the “fringe” issues and look upon RSS at best as detractors and even rationalize their intervention as an extra-Constitutional authority in governmental affairs as a “necessary evil”. A section of them harbor fond hopes that Modi would soon show RSS its place.

Both these apparently conflicting views miss the crucial alternative possibility that RSS/Bhagwat and BJP/Modi might be working in tandem with perfect mutual understanding as per an integral master plan for an ideological-social consolidation of their stint in power and protect it against anti-incumbency and the routine electoral swings of parliamentary politics. As a senior Pracharak, Modi’s standing in RSS takes him to the core of its policy leadership despite his posturing that he is disinterested on Hindutva issues. Of course, even while working in tandem there are bound to be minor variations in emphases and nuances and it is futile to read too much into these. Modi-Shah duo cannot be contrasted against RSS. After all, they are a single Parivar in sangh(am)/confluence! RSS should not be misunderstood as some kind of non-political, frenzied blokes. Even if they were to rollback cattle slaughter, RSS would rather propose it to Modi than the contrary.

When political-ideological battles threaten to reach a peak and head for a showdown, the judiciary, as the foremost establishment institution, steps in to defuse. In fact, the Madras High Court’s temporary ban for a month on this order and Kerala High Court’s interpretation that this order doesn’t ban private sale and eating of beef has poured some cold water on this issue which was snowballing into a major mass political protest, especially in southern States and West Bengal. Mass protests have been witnessed in places like Agra too and it is expected that this cattle-slaughter ban, if it had continued, would have caused job losses to more than a lakh leather and leather goods workers, especially in Chennai, Bangalore and West Bengal. It will be established clearly that Modi’s Shreshta Bharat is nothing but RSS’ Hindu Rashtra! The whole of India would be made a cow belt!

Where does the cattle-slaughter fit in into the overall Saffron scheme? Now that they are in power already, their main agenda is to consolidate their power and make it long-term and even relatively permanent by ideologically and socially reinforcing it as “Hindutva Raj” through communal mobilization from the top.

Cow politics is nothing but a means for such ideological-social reinforcement for relative permanence in power, for deepening the foundations of their rule. It is also a convenient instrument of diverting nation’s attention from the key challenges facing the country and the abject failures of Modi government on many fronts as seen in the loss of nearly half a million IT jobs, virtual absence of new job creation and Modi’s foreign policy failures with USA, China and Pakistan and what not.

In fact, the Sangh always looks for such diversionary “soft” issues like cow slaughter because they have the potential to polarize opinion and earn the support of a section of Hindus whose religious sentiments are associated with cows.

Likewise, they would rake up triple talak, where the Muslim minorities are on a weak wicket and where even a section of Muslim women might welcome Modi on this.

They desperately hope that such communal mobilization of Hindus and consolidating their support on a deeper Hindutva ideological basis would bring them back to power in 2019 and give them a second stint till 2024.

For the same reason, they would maintain a low-intensity tension at the borders and boast of unproven surgical strikes to whip up ultra-nationalism.

Above all, power can be asserted only by periodically exercising/wielding it. It is common in Indian households to see the “head of the family” shouting at others that he would not allow watching of TV in “his” house, or eating of pizzas under “his” roof or womenfolk of “his” household going out independently for shopping or watching a movie. Somewhat akin to such household authoritarianism, at a larger social level, the Saffron power wants to reassure itself. We will dictate what you can eat and what you can wear. We will decide what you can say in public and what you can watch.

If they are threatened by dalit alienation due to Saharanpurs, they wave the banner of Hindu Unity in the name of cow.

However, the power wielded on ‘soft issues’ is of course hard power—a combination of state power (legal ban) combined with street power (vigilantism). If some dalits or Muslims walk with some cattle, no matter for what reason, they would be whipped or even lynched. If an IIT research scholar participates in beef-eating festival organised by Madras IIT dalit students, he would be pinned to the ground and pounded with a rock and his left eye would be crushed by ABVP animals. They can do it within IIT Madras campus but not in Madras Law College, where dalit and Dravidian student groups are quite strong. They cannot dare to do such a thing in Karala where they would be paid back in a more befitting manner and so they are challenging the Left to do it in Delhi forgetting the fact that not long ago, last year itself, the radical students’ orgs in JNU held similar beef-eating festival.

Can the Saffron forces dare to impose a visa ban on foreign diplomats who eat beef? Can they direct the foreign Office to boycott all official diplomatic functions where beef is eaten? Can they break trade relations with all those economic entities dealing in business with beef-associated products? No, they would never do it. They would only go for soft targets to create terror.

After all, beef or no beef, they want to keep the communal pot boiling.

And RSS wants to remind the nation day in and day out that they are in command!


Cow—metamorphosis from being a divine animal to a political animal!

Though many Biblical stories are associated with many animals, it is rare to see an animal elevated to the status of the divine in the Western societies. Why divinity of the cow is unique to India? Cow is not only the main source of nutrition after land and vegetation, it is also the principal means of production in the agricultural village communities in India from time immemorial. The approach of the peasants towards cow was however mixed. On the one hand, as a key source of their livelihood these beast of burden would be worshipped on auspicious days but it is impossible to see a farmer holding the reins of two bullocks dragging his plough without a small whip in the other hand. Just because cow or bullocks are considered divine, the farmer would not refrain from making them toil or put them to economic use.

Among Tamils, the day after Pongal (the Sankranti day), they would deck their cows and bullocks with kumkum (sindhoor) and turmeric paste and worship them by showing aarti and after the festivities are over, they would promptly sell the old among the same cattle to the agents of butchers the next week, may be with a heavy heart. Without selling them, they cannot pay for the new cattle they will have to purchase before the next sowing season starts after three months. This apparent duality in farmers’ approach to cattle is also an inseparable part of the bovine economy which is an integral part of the farm economy. It would be perverse to interpret it in such a manner that farmers are maniacs who kill the same “Goddesses” they worship! Some may not sell the cows and let them die a natural death but they would definitely sell the old bullocks. Does the BJP/RSS do a service to the farmers by depriving him of his meager income by imposing a cattle-slaughter ban?

The Indian peasantry used to worship cattle but they never used to go and kill people in the name of cattle. In Andhra, they would even send for dalits to take away the dead cattle. Or, they would exchange old cattle for forest produce with tribals.

Literary allusions and historical evidence amply prove that not only dalits, tribals, Muslims and Christians, but even Hindus of upper varna layers were in the habit of eating beef from ancient times onwards. It was only in the early post-independence days, when Hindu ultra-right forces wanted to use cow protection to rehabilitate themselves from the stain of Gandhi killing, the holy cow turned into a political animal. Cow came in handy to construct a political identity. The Hindu conservative lot in the Constituent Assembly first started making cow a religious symbol only to subsequently make it a political symbol, resulting in some measure of Constitutional ambiguity. Madhya Pradesh, the conservative bastion of the Hindu orthodoxy, saw one of the first early legislations on cow protection. Cow became inseparable from communal politics then onwards.

But cow politics assumed different political overtones at different stages. It might appeal to upper castes and be directed against dalits as in Una. It might become a majoritarian political symbol as Yogi is using it in UP against Muslims. In Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, the Saffron hordes used to denigrate tribals for eating beef and tell them that they can come under Hindu fold only by giving up eating beef. This is also one of their propaganda weapons against Christians when they used to propagate among peasants that majority Christians would take away all their cows and eat them! Dalits can be dubbed sub-human only if they can be culturally distinguished from the rest of Hindus. They eat beef, so they are inferior!

In the era of proto-fascism—the stage of emerging fascism or fascistic transition—and crypto fascism—disguised fascism—cow also becomes a powerful cultural symbol, for Hindutva’s cultural politics.

Any civilized human being would shudder at the idea of killing human beings in the name of protecting cows and call it banal. And theorist Hannah Arendt was quite right in describing the shallowness of fascism as the banality of the evil. Sangh Parivar is out to create an aura of superiority over their politics of banality, a religious aura just as Hitler cultivated a racist Aryan aura. Fascist clouds in India hence float with the aura of religious superiority. The poor cow meows through these clouds and acquires a cultural-religious symbolism!

For fascism, populism need not be based only on economic issues alone. It can foremost be a populism on cultural-religious issues, too. Populism essentially means momentary or short-term deception of the masses by flaunting something dear to them and their aspirations.

Cow, thanks to its quasi religious imagery, is a potent symbol for wielding fascistic power. The tribals and dalits might claim that they have been eating beef from time immemorial. But the Hindu communal-fascists tell them: We are the self-appointed leaders of Hindus. We will dictate to you what to eat and what not to eat. All fascisms are authoritarian and all authoritarianisms have fascistic streaks.

Fascism is always a mass phenomenon. Simultaneously, it is also a mass deception. What better way to deceive upper caste Hindu youth than to tell them that the cows are more important to them than affordable education or jobs? What bizarre way to empower hapless and jobless youth by making them cow vigilantes? The peasant boys may be powerless against the landgrabbing corporates but they can wield their swords against neighbourhood dalits.

Chauvinism is the life-line of fascism. There is no fascism sans atrocities. And there are no fascists without their soft targets. Whipping up chauvinism against some or the other minority is what sustains fascists politically. That is why fascism is always a parochial politics. Digital india and cow vigilantes, going hand in hand in Modi’s India! Wholesale eviction of urban poor in the name of smart cities is not possible without blind mass support of the majority. So make the minority the targets of hate. Fascism is politics of hate.

Why not even a fraction of the concern for saving cows is not to be seen for saving the girls from rapists? The fascist fraternities in the academia/universities and the media owe an answer—who are more threatened in Modi’s India? Cows or our girls?

How long can cow remain a political Kamadhenu? Even the promise of building a temple for Ram in his alleged birthplace and perversely criminal demolition of a masjid could not sustain the fascistic aura of Saffron political forces for long in the 1990s.  Can the religious aura of the cow successfully substitute for Ram now? Can cow worship really save the Indians, including Hindus, from the evils of Modi’s brand of modernity? Let us see.

[This is the English translation of what appeared in the Hindi website JanChowk in a slightly abridged form.]

Jun 13, 2017

Kumudini Pati

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