Distractions of cow politics

A trade dispute with US; eyes off governance
US President Donald Trump’s fulmination against high Indian tariffs on Harley-Davidson bikes is cornering the news space, but the BJP government’s continuing infatuation with cow politics may have opened up another trade front with the US. India has banned US dairy products on grounds that it is indirectly contaminated by animal protein fed to the milch cattle. The use of animal protein feed for dairy animals has agitated environmental and ethical food activists. The Indian stance is, however, predicated on persuasion by gau bhakts.
The BJP government attaching extraordinary political significance to the cow is not just burdening the Commerce Ministry. For over a year, the Ministries of Law and Environment have been grappling with the fallout of a whimsical and quixotic anti-slaughter law. It was meant to be a clever, backdoor ploy to ban beef slaughter under the garb of regulating cattle trade. As is the fate of laws incubated with the focus solely on political messaging, it badly tripped and was struck down by the Supreme Court. Since then, both ministries have been engaged in a largely meaningless hunt for an equally politically eye-catching alternative. Instead of quietly dropping the move, the government is determined to brave it out with changes that would only allow the system to inconvenience cattle traders of all shades at will.
The government’s walk back from the law has not dimmed its preoccupation with political theatrics. The census on livestock is conducted with humdrum regularity for the past 100 years. It is now projected as the epitome of PM Modi’s signature Digital India drive because tablets will be used for the first time. The fact is they have been used for censuses in the past. The irony is the Modi regime’s first livestock digital census has run aground because of shortages of precisely such tablets. The deployment of the cow in creating a communally charged atmosphere was Modi’s key endeavour in 2014. But, the attempt to bring in the cow in every calculation is complicating his attempt to crank up governance in time for the 2019 elections.