India’s largest state Madhya Pradesh has yoked ministers and officials to the country’s first “cow cabinet” to give a leg-up to the rural economy, hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. But critics say the step is only a gimmick to milk sectarian sentiment.
The departments in charge of forest, revenue, rural development, home and animal husbandry have been roped into the so-called 'cow cabinet', which held its inaugural session at a cattle shelter in Madhya Pradesh state on Sunday.
“Six departments of the state government would work together in the activities of cow protection and betterment,” a Madhya Pradesh government statement added.
The ministerial cabinet will also promote bovine by-products such as dung and drinks made from cow urine which some in India say have pharmaceutical properties to cure an array of ailments including cancer.
Madhya Pradesh is governed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP.
Modi has promised several pro-cow policies since coming to power in 2014.
The cow council was also mulling plans to raise 59 million Euros by imposing a “cow tax” on the state’s 73 million people.
“Besides generating sufficient funds, it will ensure people’s participation in the sacred work of cow protection,” online publication The Print quoted state Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan as saying.
Elsewhere, Modi’s home-state Gujarat this summer green-flagged tests with a concoction of cow products for the treatment of Covid-19, which has infected nine million people and claimed 133,000 lives so far in India.
No fewer than 850,000 stray cattle wander around Madhya Pradesh, sprawled across 308,252 square kilometers.
Chief Minister Chauhan faced criticism this year when he cleaved by 90 percent a state budget meant to feed 180,000 steers in government-funded cow shelters.
Few takers for cow projects
“The Chauhan government did nothing for the conservation and protection of cows in the last nearly 16 years,” said Kamal Nath, a former state chief minister.
Nath, a leader from India’s main opposition Congress party, vowed to build 1,000 cow shelters if voted back to power.
But all attempts of either the Congress or the BJP to appeal to Hindus' emotions in the name of the cow have come to very little.
The public have donated the equivalent of just 800 euros to state-run cow welfare programs since 2017.
Murderous cow vigilantes
Many Hindus revere the animal as sacred and BJP-ruled states in India have outlawed consumption of beef or cow slaughter, leading to violent vigilante attacks largely targeting meat traders.
At least 44 people, including 36 Muslims, died in such attacks between May 2015 and December 2018, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report last year.
The Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment separately blamed India’s shrinking cattle headcount to cow protection laws in five farming states including Madhya Pradesh.
Love Jihad law
In a separate political development, Madhya Pradesh leaders have promised a law against love jihad, a Hindu conspiracy theory that claims Muslims use subterfuge to convert Hindu women through money or marriage.
The draft stipulated a five-year prison term for forced conversions amid worries the legislation will again spur vigilante groups into action.
Madhya Pradesh also set up India’s first happiness department in 2016 but within the year the minister in charge went on the run after police charged him with murdering a political rival.