Cow Cabinet : Wherefore wisdom?

img1 A. J. Philip
30 Nov 2020

My relative in Melbourne, Australia, took me to a dairy on the outskirts of the city. The dairy had about 500 well-fed, high-yielding cows. It was situated in the corner of a large pastureland. The cows would be let off for grazing in the morning.

The dairy had two trained dogs whose job was to bring the cows together for milking twice in the day. Once the bovines were brought together, they would on their own enter a building through a single gate. Each would wait patiently for its turn.

As the cow crosses the gate, it automatically stands on a rotating platform. Once the cow is in a standing position, water mixed with potassium permanganate is pumped on the udder to clean the area. Then tubes are connected to the nipples and the machine starts drawing milk from the animal. It also records the correct yield from the animal. 

Once the milk is given, the animal shakes its body and the pipes fall down. By then it would have reached another gate through which it goes out.

The dairy employed just a few veterinary staff. The dogs did a wonderful job when they were prompted by a dairy in-charge. For visitors, hot milk in different flavours were available. I had a glass of milk while the rest of us had freshly-made ice-cream.

Once I travelled from Cologne in Germany to Rome in Italy by train. Much of the journey was through the Alps area in Switzerland. What I noticed most were large cows grazing in the meadows. They had endless land to graze. 

I considered them the luckiest cows. I had a similar kind of experience in my childhood. I had accompanied my uncle, who now lives in Nagpur, to his wife’s house at Chengara in Pathanamthitta district.

Their house was on the edge of the Chengara tea estate. By the way, a person from that area, Devan Nair, went on to become the president of Singapore, only to lose the post because of his excessive drinking. The family had a dozen cows which would be let off in the estate in the evening. After grazing the whole night, they would return home in the morning. They were very healthy like the Australian and Swiss cows.

Now, imagine for a second how the dairy in Melbourne would have been if there was a ban on the slaughter of cows and their progeny. How would it have remained profitable? In fact, dairy and its allied industries in Australia, neighbouring New Zealand and Switzerland would have collapsed.

About two decades ago, thousands of cows in Britain had to be culled when they contracted a particular disease. At that time, the leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, one Mr Ashok Singhal, wanted the Government of India to intervene and save the cows in Britain.

Such was his love for the cow!

Fortunately, persons with some sense were ruling the country at that time and they ignored the VHP leader’s demand. On its part, a BJP leader also clarified that foreign cows could not be treated as Gaumata!

Otherwise, we would have seen thousands of cows suffering from the mad cow disease reaching Indian shores by ships. It would have been a real international joke. 

Incidentally, when 9/11 happened in the US, the debris from the twin World Trade Centre towers was brought to foundries like the ones in Patiala in Punjab. 

One of the most thriving industries in Gujarat is the ship-breaking industry. The metals used in the manufacture of ships are evidently the best.

Be that as it may, we as a nation are now passing through an interesting period. When we adopted the Cabinet system of government, in preference to the presidential system, it had something to do with the fact that Britain was a democratic country, though it had a hereditary titular head.

The Cabinet is a group of ministers headed by the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister concerned, who is the first among the equals. It is the Cabinet which collectively takes all the decisions, including, for instance, demonetisation. If a prime minister or a chief minister takes a decision independent of his cabinet, it is considered an aberration.

Never in the history of the cabinet system of government in India and abroad has anyone thought of a “Cow Cabinet”. That credit should go to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. He has the distinction of losing an election only to bounce back to power by splitting the Congress which had defeated him.

Since he was not brought back to power by the electorate, he, perhaps, thought that it was the Gaumata who helped him accomplish the dream of retaining his post as chief minister.

Nobody had any clue how the “cow cabinet” would work. Will the cabinet consist of cows? In that case, which species of cow will preside over it? Who will record their proceedings? Will there be a separate cabinet secretary?

Fortunately, Chauhan clarified what he meant by the “Cow Cabinet”. There will be a sub-cabinet within the cabinet to look after the interests of the cow. Now, what does it mean?

The Cow Cabinet will have ministers representing five departments — Animal Husbandry, Forest, Panchayat and Rural Development, Revenue, Home and Farmers' Welfare. 

To be fair to Chauhan, he was serious when he announced his plan to set up the Cow Cabinet. In fact, he presided over the first meeting of the Cow Cabinet early last week.

It was done on an auspicious day - Gopashtami. As the legend goes, it was on this day that Lord Krishna and his elder brother Balarama, who had come of age, were given the responsibility of grazing cows by his father, Nanda Maharaj. Radha, Krishna’s divine consort, also wanted to join him but she was not allowed because of her gender. She disguised as a boy and accompanied Krishna. 

While presiding over the Cow Cabinet, Chauhan described how the cow was sacred for the people (read: some Hindus). He said there were three Gs considered sacrosanct for them. They were the Gita, the Ganga and the Gaumata!

Chauhan added that when Hindus prepared roti, the first one was reserved for the cow and the last one for the dog. I do not know whether he would form a Dog Cabinet to ensure that dogs are given the best of treatment in the state but I doubt because the name dog does not begin with the letter G, whatever be the language used — Sanskrit, Hindi or English.

Chauhan is a successful politician. Nobody calls him a loudmouth. He mentioned the practice of feeding roti to the cow and the dog to introduce a cess to finance his pet project of saving the cow.

The chief minister has already set up a cow sanctuary that can accommodate 4,000 barren cows. This is in addition to gaushalas (cowsheds) in every nook and cranny of the state, geographically the largest in the country. Land is, thus, not an issue for him.

Alas, the cow needs grass or fodder to survive. Who will provide the animal food once the cow turns barren? The Cow Cabinet will have to set up a well-oiled machinery to provide fodder to the cows. 

We know what happened in Bihar when the government supported a programme to provide fodder to the cattle. Politicians and bureaucrats joined hands to cheat the government of crores of rupees in the name of feeding cows. Much the same will happen in Madhya

Pradesh. In fact, reports often come from MP suggesting that cows perished for want of food and water in the gaushalas in the state.

It is easy to set up a cow cabinet but difficult to look after lakhs of cows and bulls in the state which are no longer productive. Chauhan says that children who get mid-day meals in schools should be provided cow milk, instead of eggs. What he does not know is that cows produce milk to feed their progeny, not human beings.

All animals with mammary glands, including Homo sapiens, produce milk. It is not to support the life of another species. In fact, Chauhan’s party colleague and former Union minister Maneka Gandhi began her public campaign in the seventies and eighties by disabusing the people of their belief that milk was good for human beings. 

Chauhan will do well to read her articles of those days to realise that cow milk in its purest form was not an agreeable food for human beings. No, my intention is not to enter into an argument on this issue with anyone.

Suffice to say that there is an easier and more acceptable solution to the problem Chauhan tries to grapple with by setting up his Cow Cabinet. It is to leave to the farmer the duty of looking after his cows or bulls.

There was a time when a person’s wealth was measured in terms of the number of cattle he owned. The larger the number, the richer the person was.

Over the decades, the value of the animals has been falling. The arrival of the tractor ended the dependency of the farmer on the bullocks for his agricultural operations. Unlike the tractor that needs fuel only when it is used, the animals have to be fed 365 days a year.

Today, it is cheaper to hire a tractor than to keep a pair bullocks for ploughing.

However hard Chauhan tries, he cannot force the farmer to go back to his past agricultural practices. There will, therefore, be a large number of cattle which has no use for the farmer. Their place will be the public roads and other public properties.

What is the practical solution? It is as simple as restoring the right of the farmer to dispose of his property in the best possible way he wants. How can Chauhan call his car and house his property? He can call so because he has the right to sell the same for cash or kind.

Does the farmer have such a right over the cow he owns. In much of India, the cow has no value once it turns barren. In a state like Kerala and West Bengal, where cow slaughter has not been banned, a barren cow fetches the owner upwards of Rs 20,000.

Does Chauhan know how many kilograms of cauliflower a farmer will have to produce and sell to earn Rs 20,000? That is why in Kerala and West Bengal, he will not find any cow loitering on public roads, unlike in New Delhi and Bhopal, cattle are a menace for both pedestrians and vehicular traffic. 

Chauhan may also be surprised to know that Kerala and West Bengal had, per capita wise, the largest number of cows in the country! On the contrary, the number of cows has been falling in the so-called cow belt as the farmers are turning to rearing of buffaloes.

It may be a surprise for Chauhan that the white revolution in the country was thanks mainly to the buffaloes, than to the cows. In fact, the buffaloes yield more milk than the cows. What’s more, it has a higher percentage of fat, called ghee, than the cow milk.

Also, the farmers can sell the buffalo to the butcher, though the butchers are closing their shops because of the increasing threat to their lives from cow vigilantes. 

The alternative is to let the farmers in Madhya Pradesh sell their unwanted cattle to the butchers and beef exporters. Yes, abattoirs need to be modernised and maintained properly. The government can do a lot to make the slaughter scientific and less harmful to the animals and the environment.

There will be no need for any gaushala. Once I visited the gaushala attached to the famous Sri Parthasarathy temple at Aranmula in Pathanamthitta district, famous for the Aranmula boat race. It could accommodate a dozen or so cows but it had only one or two on the day I visited.

Can it be said that Hindus in Kerala and West Bengal are less Hindu than Chauhan who worships the cow? If Chauhan was born in Mongolia or China or Nagaland or in a Muslim or a Christian or a tribal family, he would probably have been a great eater of beef.

A person’s fads or religious beliefs cannot be the basis of state policy. Of course, Chauhan has the option of wasting public resources in the name of protecting the cow when he is actually destroying the cattle wealth of the state. We need a Cabinet of intelligent people, not a Cow Cabinet led by cow-like characters!

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