By Javed Anand

If you are a resident of Madhya Pradesh,Muslim and poor,nowhere close to the class of nawabs who can pay for murg musallam or mutton raan,watch your pot! The BJP government,led by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan,has just armed itself with a big danda ostensibly to protect the holy cow and its progeny. But,make no mistake,its a stick to beat you with.

To save your skin,turn vegetarian or get out of the state. Better still,go to court. Veganism,remember,is not an option in the land of gau rakshaks: that might be construed as turning your back on what the gau mata has on offer  doodh,dahi,desi ghee and more.

In case you missed the news,the MP governments Gau-Vansh Vadh Pratishedh (Sanshodhan) Act has just received the presidential nod. Punishment for slaughtering the cow or its progeny,transporting them to slaughter and storing beef,under the more-Hindu-than-thou legislation,will be severe: up to seven years in jail.

Eating beef has been a contentious issue in the country for long. A few years ago,Professor D.N. Jha,an eminent historian,argued in his book that in ancient India Hindus loved their cow and ate it too. For Vinayak Damodar Savarkar,the Hindu Mahasabha leader who gave us the  Hindutva concept,the cow was merely a  useful animal ,but by no means a sacred animal.

But for the Arya Samaj founder Swami Dayanand Saraswati,it was indeed Holy Cow. The Arya Samaj endorsed cow worship even though it rejected idol worship and polytheism. To Mahatma Gandhi,the cow was  a poem of pity. He too worshipped it.

India has had a long history of agitation for cow protection,no doubt. Today,laws prohibiting cow slaughter are in force in several parts of the country. This column is not about their rationale,but the severe punishment stipulated in the new enactment in MP.

A comparison with other states shows that there is no bar,or limited restriction,on beef consumption in Bihar,West Bengal,the northeastern states Assam,Meghalaya, Mizoram,Nagaland , Arunachal Pradesh,Tripura  and Kerala. Where prohibitory laws are in place,the punishment for offenders varies from six months in Maharashtra to two years in Orissa. Some of the stringent provisions are in states which are,or have been,under BJP rule: Gujarat,Karnataka,Himachal Pradesh,Jharkhand.

Look at it from another angle: check out the Indian Penal Code. For example,Section 295 of IPC says that for  whoever destroys,damages or defiles any place of worship, the prescribed punishment is imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years,or with a fine,or both. Could this mean that the punishment for destroying the Babri mosque is two years while the punishment for slaughtering a cow,or keeping beef at home or a hotel (in MP) is up to seven years?

Cow protection laws may be justified on religious grounds. But the provision of stringent punishments in BJP-ruled states clearly points to the communal dimension. This is starkly evident in the case of BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh. Under its new law,a humble head constable upwards, or any person authorised by a competent authority,has the power to enter,inspect and search any premises  where he has reason to believe that an offence has been,is being,or is likely to be committed and take necessary action.

Is likely to be committed? You do not need a particularly fertile imagination to recognise the numerous possibilities in this draconian and insidious provision to harass, intimidate, implicate,detain,arrest or prosecute a targeted section of citizens. In a state where as often as not the police function as the private militia of the Saffron Brotherhood,who is to determine,and on what basis,whether a chunk of meat stored in the fridge or simmering on the burner comes from a buffalo (not prohibited) or from a cow or its progeny?

The low-profile chief minister of MP is wilier than we think. Having successfully sold the idea that here is a man whose sole concern is aspirational politics bijli,sadak,pani  Chouhan has been cannily pursuing the politics of Hindutva Plus. Because he chooses to operate below the media radar,the country remains blissfully ignorant of his relentless Hinduisation of MP society.

Consider the deeds of the MP government as enumerated by the Bhopal-based journalist and secular activist,L.S. Herdenia,in a report last year:

Chouhan publicly enjoins government employees to take an active part in RSS activities; several government schemes are named after Hindu rituals and ceremonies; the Bhopal police chief issued a  secret circular to all police stations in 2010,directing them to collect all kind of information from Christian institutions under their jurisdiction.

In early 2007,surya namaskar was made mandatory in government schools. In 2009,the government declared that students would have to recite a Sanskrit hymn,the Bhojan Mantra,before partaking of their government-funded midday meals. In April 2011,Chouhan announced that Gita Saar (Essence of the Gita) would henceforth be compulsorily taught to all students. And many land allotments have been made to various saffron organisations; one of them was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2011.

Add the latest draconian enactment on cow slaughter to the above and you get a complete picture of the agenda at work in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh: target Muslims with cow slaughter,Christians with  forced conversions.

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