Jaipur: On December 28, 2018, the directorate of gopalan (cow welfare) in Rajasthan passed an order to encourage people to adopt stray cows – prompting widespread comment on the newly-elected Congress government’s imitation of BJP gau seva policies.
However, sources at the directorate now say this was in fact an order from the outgoing BJP government, held back after October 6, when the model code of conduct was implemented before of the state assembly elections.
Many reactions in the media conflated the adopt-a-cow policy with the BJP’s agenda for gau raksha under the Vaundhara Raje government, even though the aim of the former is to find humane shelter for abandoned cows.
The latter was aimed at booking cattle traders – and also paved the way for self-appointed cow vigilantes, popularly known as gau rakshaks, to assault and sometimes lynch cattle traders.
An adopted policy to adopt-a-cow
The order, signed by the director at the gopalan department, Vishram Meena, was not extensively discussed with the minister. In fact, no formal meeting or written orders from the ministry were issued to the directorate. It was passed in just four days after the Congress’s Pramod Bhaya took oath as the cabinet minister for cow welfare.
“There was some miscommunication,” said Anil Kaushik, joint director, planning at the directorate of gopalan. “We were already working on this policy but it couldn’t be passed due to imposition of the model code of conduct.”
“A preliminary meeting was conducted after the [Congress] minister took oath, and before the order was passed, where he put up his intention to resolve the stray cattle menace in the state, as mentioned in the party’s manifesto,” Kaushik told The Wire. “The minister was told about it [the order] but not in an elaborate manner.”
Sources say the new minister isn’t happy with the directorate for taking crucial decisions on its own. He has now ordered the officials to review all the existing schemes and those in the pipeline.
“The director had to face the music when the media reached the minister about the order. There is some misunderstanding between the ministry and the directorate at present which will take some time to settle down,” a senior official at the directorate told The Wire, on the condition of anonymity.
“We never expected that the order would be highlighted in the media this way,” he added.
Meanwhile, the BJP has called the order a mere formality, saying much more was done in its tenure – for which the Congress is now taking credit.
Speaking to The Wire, Otaram Devasi, first ‘cow minister’ under the previous BJP government in Rajasthan said, “It is an age-old tradition of adopting cows at the gaushala, nothing new. During BJP’s tenure, we have passed several such orders to encourage adoption of cows … Even this was our work, for which the Congress government is taking credit, but we cannot stop them. In fact, we are happy that they are finally working for the welfare of cows.”
The order urged district collectors to motivate charitable people (bhamashah), and officials and social workers to adopt stray cows caught by municipal workers under the Cattle Trespass Act. The order reads:
“The Directorate is already providing 180 days of assistance to the 2,570 registered gaushalas… Still, the cows are in a deplorable state; eating plastic, rotten waste garbage on roads and creating havoc for the public.”
In view of such miserable situation of cows, the initiatives of the district collectors of Jhalawar and Alwar are certainly admirable and exemplary. They had given the responsibility of upkeep and maintenance of stray cows to charitable donors and social workers by bringing out a resolution to adopt cows from the gaushalas.”
The order also suggests that people who adopt stray cows be felicitated on Independence Day and Republic Day. A similar guideline already exists, formulated by the previous BJP government, to felicitate the best gaushala in those days.
“What’s new in this order? Hundreds of charitable persons have adopted cows from our gaushala. We had pushed the BJP government to take this forward but circumstantially, it came out now,” Ajay Agarwal, a gaushala owner in Alwar, told The Wire.
In 2014, the Raje government set up around 39 gau raksha chowkis (posts) – each with seven dedicated police personnel – to apprehend anyone moving bovine livestock out of the state, without the collector’s approval. In the absence of awareness of how to seek this approval, however, traders were often booked for smuggling cows. Even traders with approvals have been stopped and assaulted, as happened to Pehlu Khan – who was beaten to death, while his killing was recorded on a mobile phone.
The Raje government also appeared to sanction vigilantes from right-wing fringe groups to apprehend cattle traders. Gau rakshaks often demanded hefty payments from traders – usually from minority communities – under the threat of violence.
Since 2014, there has been a spike in both – cattle-related violence and the number of cases registered under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter) Act, 1955. The Rajasthan police registered 389 such cases in 2017 alone.
In their manifesto for the 2018 assembly elections, the BJP promised more gau raksha outposts across the state to combat cow smuggling.
The Congress manifesto also promised support for cows – but in the form of increased subsidies for the gaushalas. During the state election campaign, it stayed silent about lynching incidents under the Raje government, ostensibly to retain its Hindu vote bank.