New Delhi: The new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Rajasthan is likely sticking to its promise and creating a ministry for cow protection even as the party, ahead of the Congress in the race to form the next government in the Centre if opinion polls are to be believed, has decided that it will stress its bovine-friendly image in the Hindi belt during the campaign.
Cow protection will be a major issue in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in many parts of North India (Rajasthan, Haryana and some areas of western Uttar Pradesh), senior leaders of the BJP said.
The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has already criticized the Union government for promoting India’s “pink revolution”—the export of meat.
“Vasundhara Raje (now the chief minister of the state) had promised people that the BJP would form a cow protection ministry (when elected); the state government has already started working on this plan,” said Prabhu Lal Saini, animal husbandry minister of Rajasthan. “There are 12.1 million heads of cattle in Rajasthan, the highest in the country. There are 1,304 cow sheds in Rajasthan and more than 500,000 cows are provided food in cow sheds. Some of the NGOs are also helping the government and working for protection of cows,” the minister added. Senior BJP leaders said the protection of cows—animals considered holy by most Hindus—is an issue close to the hearts of voters in parts of north India, and will be made an election issue in Rajasthan, Haryana and some areas of western Uttar Pradesh.
The three states are important for BJP’s bid to topple the ruling Congress in the general election because they account for 115 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha.
Western Uttar Pradesh constituencies being targeted by the BJP for its cow protection campaign include Agra, Mathura, Hathras, Aligarh, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Amroha, Saharanpur, Rampur, Badaun, and Pilibhit.
“Even if the BJP doesn’t raise it during the election, people will make it an election issue this time because it is such a sensitive issue,” said Satpal Malik, the BJP vice-president who is a prominent leader from western Uttar Pradesh.
“I attended a public meeting of Narendra Modi in Surat in which he told the gathering that the state government was busy in green revolution and white revolution (milk), but the Union government was busy giving subsidy for a pink revolution. We asked Narendra Modi to raise the issue during his visits in western Uttar Pradesh,” he added.
Malik pointed out that BJP president Rajnath Singh had also worked for cow protection when he was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Malik alleged that there were several illegal abattoirs in western Uttar Pradesh where animals, stolen from farmers, are slaughtered.
BJP leaders from Haryana said the issue would resonate in their state, too.
“Most people in Haryana are vegetarians and people value cows as their mothers. But now we get to hear and read cases of theft and deaths of these animals. This will be major issue,” said Om Prakash Dhankar, convener of the farmers wing of the BJP and a prominent leader in the state.
Political analysts say the BJP will make a special effort to raise the twin issues of cow protection and Hindutva with voters and potential supporters in order to differentiate itself from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has plans to field candidates against both the BJP and the Congress.
“There is a historical perspective also because the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (the BJP’s predecessor party) had led a major movement in 1950s and 1960s on cow protection. The BJP wants to be seen as different to the AAP and it wants to attract voters. These are issues which are close to people, so the BJP is trying to use it to win their support,” said Jai Mrug, Mumbai-based political analyst.