Cow cess & 'freedom movement' invocation: BJP's latest tools for cow politics
It is not just criminals who are overzealous about cow protection in Rajasthan. The state government appears to be competing with their enthusiasm in equal measure.
One day before self-styled 'cow protectors' fatally thrashed a dairy farmer in Alwar, the Rajasthan government issued a notification bringing alive a 'cow cess' in the state. The cess is essentially a surcharge for “protection and propagation of cow and its progeny” in the state.
The state government issued a notification on 31 March, ordering a surcharge of 10% on stamp duty for 'conservation and propagation' of cow and its progeny. The cess will apply to stamp duty “payable on all the instruments under Section 3 read with Schedule to the Rajasthan Stamp Act, 1998”.
The move had been announced in the state budget presented last month, and came into existence from 1 April, with the beginning of the new financial year. In the budget papers, it was listed as a “surcharge for development of basic infrastructure facilities and protection and propagation of cow and its progeny”.
Reports claimed that the cess was already in existence on a limited list of items, but this budget made it clear that it will now be levied on all instruments covered by the Rajasthan Stamp Act.
The state government is possibly the only one in the country that already has a cow ministry with a dedicated budget. The new surcharge will mean generation of additional revenue for cow protection and promotion.
Is it this kind of misplaced enthusiasm that sends signals to lumpen elements to go on an overdrive in the guise of serving cows, even if it means taking the law into their hands?
A game of signals
As the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq in Uttar Pradesh's Dadri had shown in 2015, this frenzy over cow protection is indeed a game of signals. The BJP and its leaders promote cow service as a virtue, fringe outfits change the narrative from cow service to cow protection, protection soon turns into vigilance acts or mob fury, and politicians are then seen condemning violence, but adding caveats showing them standing by the motive of cow protection.
Note how Rajasthan's Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria defended the Alwar attackers, saying it was 'alright' for people 'illegally transporting animals' to be caught. Having said that, he merely noted that "no one has the right to take the law into their own hands".
He also added, for good measure, that "police asked the people transporting cows to show legal papers, but they did not show them".
In terms of signalling, the state government got some crucial support from the Union government (both run by the BJP) at the most opportune moment. Even as widespread uproar broke out over the murder in Alwar, Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in Parliament that 'cow protection' was part of the country's freedom movement.
Technically, Sitharaman was speaking on the UP government's drive against all kinds of slaughterhouses in the state, but the statement had heavy implications for the discourse on the Alwar incident.
MoS Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi denied any knowledge of the Alwar incident, saying “We don't condone lawlessness”, but adding that “no message should go that we are for cow killings”.
BJP leaders had displayed the same tactics in the aftermath of Akhlaq's murder. Yogi Adityanath, the present UP CM, had then demanded slapping of cow slaughter charges against Akhlaq's family members instead.
Union MoS Agriculture Sanjeev Balyan had said Akhlaq couldn't have eaten the 150 kg cow all by himself. Sangeet Som, then BJP MLA, had even addressed public meetings in the area, instigating Hindus to fight for justice.
The Dadri probe is not yet over, culprits are yet to be identified, and the harmony in the village and its vicinity has been destroyed for a long time to come.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's denunciation of cow vigilantes last year has been proved to be empty rhetoric, exposing the party's double-speak. It is time for law enforcement agencies to step in and deal with this menace firmly.
The Supreme Court is hearing a PIL demanding a ban on cow vigilantes, and the court served notices to the Centre and six states on 7 April – five of which are now run by the BJP (Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Maharashtra) and one by the Congress (Karnataka). All eyes are on the Supreme Court now.