Thousands of cows starving because of the Cow Protection laws are released by their keepers at midnight in large parts of northern India to feed themselves on tender crops of recently sown wheat, coarse grains, vegetables and potatoes during the severest part of the winter. Farmers, who have toiled hard to sow the seeds and irrigate them, are finding that they will be ruined and penniless when hungry cows can chew what they can pull out from the virgin soil of farms with their hooves.
Farmers are waiting with their sticks and lights to chase the invading cows out, but some cows and bulls attack them and even kill the farmers. There is tragedy all around for the sacred cow and the less sacred farmer who feeds the nation year after year without getting a return on the grains he grows and sells it in the market at a price far below the cost of production. If not the yet-to-green farms, the cattle enter school compounds and empty classrooms at night and make it their home.
Is the BJP shooting itself in the back foot or front foot by taking up and implementing self-defeating policies by paying lip service to the farmer, but in fact denying him cash benefits? Cash benefits are the ones that the farmer is entitled to under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or MNREGA, which was started by the previous government of Dr. Manmohan Singh.
Even if there was some level of wrongdoing then, cash benefits of Rs. 100 per day initially for labour on development projects were placed in the farmers’ hand in crisp currency notes. That has been stopped.
The present government made it mandatory for MNREGA workers to have to go to a rural bank miles and miles far away from home to withdraw the money from their bank account and wait in queues for days to cash a cheque. Cashing a cheque is a near impossibility in villages. The digital diktat of the government is all right for the rich and famous, but its reach for the poor or the poorest is often near zero. The Modi Government can pride itself by claiming to have curbed small corruption, but wiped out millions from the benefits. This modern attitude has denied benefits to people, who had started seeing and receiving 500-rupee notes for the first time in their lives.
The plush air-conditioned or centrally heated offices and homes of Lutyens Delhi and other cities can compete in style with Washington D.C. or Paris, but does it help the poor and ordinary Indian? In this scenario, the BJP hopes to win the General Election which will choose a new Lok Sabha in four to five months and usher in what it claims will be a brand new era of computers with robotics at times replacing human interface to match up to the First World as India is already the world’s sixth largest economy with a gross domestic product of $3 to 4 trillion and an equal size of parallel economy.
Promises of government paying the minimum support price are never kept and most of the farmers commit suicide when they cannot repay the debt to the money lender at 12 to 30 per cent interest per month. They cannot afford to go to a court in the district headquarters to engage a lawyer and bring to the notice of judges that the interest he has to pay is illegal and the lender should be stopped from recovering the borrowed sum as well as interest. Bank loans are waived at times or there is an interest waiver, but in the process both the farmer and the bank are being bankrupted while the rulers of scams flee India after robbing the State and the banks.
This is the story of India, the world’s sixth largest economy in spite of tens of millions without jobs or self-employment. Small and medium industries have been shut down for more than two years after demonetization and high cost goods and service tax imposed last year as a bogus financial reform of the 21st Century.
Yet India has a cattle population of 400 million, half of them dry and unproductive, but in this sacred land of the Himalayas as its backdrop, the Mother Cow must be worshipped like a goddess even if the human race has to make sacrifices in the process. In recent decades, the Mother Cow has been overtaken by breeds, not totally Indian, but cross-bred with bulls from the First World to ensure high yields of milk. The new breed cows do not maintain the high bovine class of the ages old genes with attendant high quality of milk and milk products. Yet even the cross-bred cow has to be protected and fed at a minimum cost of Rs. 100 per day whether their owner can feed himself or his family or not. India has a population of 1.5 billion people, with half the population not just underfed and malnourished, but tens of millions starving.
The BJP won the General Election of 2014 with great promises of welfare. Yet hotheads like Ram Dev Yadav, self-styled top level Yoga guru, owns a huge empire of consumer goods and food products worth more than a billion dollars and thousands of acres of forests and land grabbed for cow sheds and factories and ashrams.
Ram Dev professes and zealously preaches Saffron Parivar ideology. He is exceeded by hundreds of miles by Ajay Singh Bist alias Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of U.P. who spends Rs. 3,000 crores on 3,000 cow shelters a year and plans to build many more for 20 million officially admitted surplus cows that yield no milk, though in fact, the surplus cows are much larger in numbers in U.P.
Lalit Sethi is a Journalist of long standing and a commentator on Political and Social Issues.