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Holy Be Your Name, Cow

Holy Be Your Name, Cow

Theocracy is older than democracy. It is defined as "a form of government in which God or a deity is recognised as the supreme civil ruler, the God's or deity's laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities". From Lord Ram to Moses to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, they ruled in the name of God.

The Rolex-wearing al-Baghdadi, the self-appointed Caliph and leader of the terrorist group, Islamic State (IS), is believed to have been killed in an American air strike in Syria. He used the pulpit to attract disgruntled and distraught youth, mostly from rich American and European states, to establish the Caliphate where God in his own avatar would rule.

Decapitating enemies and telecasting the videos of the barbarous act became his signature method to establish God's sovereignty over earth. It did not occur to him that the all-powerful, all-merciful God did not need the assistance of a vainglorious lover of creature comforts to bring about a heaven on Earth.

Another theocrat who lost power was the King of Nepal, the only Hindu state in the world, where indices of human development -- from infant mortality rate to women's education -- were pathetic, to say the least. Yet, he lived in opulence until a young prince took the gun and mercilessly gunned him down and killed many of his close relatives, including his wife.

The present King's greatest supporters are not in Nepal but in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Those who study India-Nepal relations know only too well that the BJP government has a soft corner for the Maharaja and it did everything possible to restore his rule. 

When Narendra Modi went to Kathmandu soon after taking over as Prime Minister, he carried 2,000 kg of sandalwood as an offering to the Pashupatinath temple there. He did not know that the youth of Nepal would have been happier if he had taken, instead, 2,000 computers which would have helped them surf the Internet and know that theocracy was the worst form of government.

Theocrats propagate their divine links. Every King in India claimed that he descended from the Sun God or the Moon God. 

King Birendra was considered an avatar of Lord Vishnu until he fell to the bullets of his own son in what is called the Royal massacre. That has not prevented the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other sundry organisations known by the collective name Sangh Parivar from trying to make Nepal once again a Hindu state where cow is worshipped. 

One person in the Parivar whose commitment to the erstwhile Nepal ruler is total is Yogi Adityanath, who is today the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The biggest surprise of the Assembly elections in March was not the BJP manipulating the system to come to power in Goa and Manipur but the Yogi becoming the CM.

The BJP took a little over a week to name Yogi while it took only a few hours to nominate Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar as the Goa Chief Minister. Since the party had not announced any chief ministerial nominee in UP, it certainly was within its rights to choose anyone to head the government.

Nobody has any doubt about Adityanath's ability to win a by-election and become an MLA within six months to continue in office. Who knows he may even create a record by registering a victory with the largest margin. Or, given his aura and power, nobody might dare to contest against him.

At 44, he is one of the youngest chief ministers. For many it is difficult to believe that he is a five-term Member of Parliament. He is a rabble-rouser but more than that it is his religious connection that brought him to power. He heads the Gorakhnath Mutt whose influence extends to Nepal. Many do not believe him as just a popular politician because he heads the Mutt that connects itself with Lord Shiva.

Shiva is one among the Trinity that never had a human incarnation but that does not prevent some from considering Yogi as his avatar. He ascended to the "throne" of Gorakhnath when his mentor and guru nonagenarian Mahant Avaidyanath died soon after Modi came to power at the Centre.

The Mahant was a strong votary of Hindutva. He played a major role in the Ramjanambhoomi movement that catapulted the BJP from a two-MP party in 1984 to what it is now. He learnt politics at the feet of his mentor and spiritual guru Mahant Digvijaynath whom he succeeded in 1969.

Here a digression on Mahant Digvijaynath would be in order. He earned notoriety when he was arrested in connection with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. He was alleged to have promoted the idea that Gandhi deserved death in an inflammatory speech he delivered three days before Nathuram Vinayak Godse shot Gandhi at Birla Bhavan in New Delhi.

He was with the Hindu Mahasabha when Veer Savarkar was its president. He was close to KK Nayar, a civil servant-turned-Hindu Mahasabha MP, during whose civil service days an idol of Ram appeared mysteriously in the Babri Masjid. 

It was considered a masterstroke by the Mahant, who joined politics as a Congressman in 1920. He took part in the non-cooperation movement launched by Gandhi. Students of history know one name Chauri-Chaura. It shot into infamy in 1922 when the local people burnt down the police station killing 22 policemen.

Gandhi was so saddened by the incident that he called off the movement. One of those arrested for the arson was Mahant Digvijaynath. Not many know how the incident occurred.

The people of Gorakhpur protested against the sudden rise in meat prices. The British police used firearms to quell the agitation. It only infuriated the people who retaliated forcing the policemen to take shelter in the police station. There they were burnt alive like Australian missionary Graham Staines and his sons Philip and Timothy.

All this shows how much linked Gorakhnath Mutt has been to the Hindutva politics in the country. Yogi Adityanath is no stranger to such extremist politics. In the affidavit he filed while contesting the Lok Sabha election in 2014, the Yogi had to mention the cases pending against him.

The charges include -- to quote Mani Shankar Aiyar -- "injuring or defiling places of worship"; "trespassing on burial spaces"; "mischief by fire and negligent conduct with respect to combustible matter"; "rioting with deadly weapons"; and even "attempt to murder"! Thank Goodness, he has promised to restore law and order in the state. Perhaps, a thief is better equipped to catch a thief.

Nobody would ordinarily expect such a person to become Chief Minister. The secularists were not the only ones to be taken aback by the decision. Even BJP supporters were surprised by the choice. It is difficult to believe that he was Modi's choice because Yogi Adityanath is not like a Parrikar or Khattar whom he can pick up and drop at his convenience.

The surprise is because Adityanath is hardly the person who can inspire confidence among the ordinary people. His mentor was fond of saying that Muslims should be disenfranchised for at least ten years till they proved their loyalty to India. He is the one who set up Hindu Yuva Vahini as if the RSS, the VHP etc were incapable of protecting the interests of those who believe in Hindutva.

From defending the killers of Mohammed Akhlaq who made the mistake of storing some mutton in his refrigerator to supporting the campaign that led to the displacement of about 1 lakh Muslims from Muzaffarnagar using a fake video, he had been hitting the headlines in the media. Yogi had a simple answer to anyone questioning him: "Go to Pakistan".

He once compared film star Shah Rukh Khan to Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed. He did not even spare Saint Teresa of Kolkata for he saw her care for the poor and the forlorn as an attempt to proselytise the whole nation. He wanted to plant an idol in every mosque in the country. Since I would run out of space if I mention all the controversial statements he made in the course of his long political career, I refrain from doing so.

The BJP says that Adityanath is bound to fulfil Modi's promise of   sabke saath sabke vikash. It is too early to judge his rule of less than a month. Nonetheless, the straws in the wind cannot be ignored. Nobody can question his right to do special pujas to exorcise the evil spirits that remained in the Chief Minister's house where he now stays.

Again, he was well within his rights to ban all leather goods from his office and house because leather is dirty to the faithfuls of Hindutva. Incidentally, the RSS men do not use leather products even as belt and shoe. Again, nobody can ask him why he wants to shift some of his cows and calves to Lucknow from Gorakhpur. After all, he is an ardent worshipper of the cow and he begins his day feeding the animal.

Be that as it may, a chief minister's personal choices cannot become state policy. What are the signals that come out of the state? The anti-Romeo squads in UP Police have become suddenly active harassing any couple found holding hands in public places or parks.

For many, including even married couples, it is in public places like restaurants and parks that they can exchange sweet nothings. Is that such a big crime that special squads have to be created? As regards taking action against anyone who harasses a woman, the police are already empowered to do so. Why only police, even the public must protect women who face harassment in public places!

Adityanath was used cleverly by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to prevent the Lok Sabha from discussing some of the provisions of the Money Bill 2017 which had nothing to do with Finance and everything to do with the government's determination to reduce the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP does not enjoy majority, to a toothless non-entity. The party has succeeded to some extent in this regard. 

The Chief Minister made a cryptic statement open to interpretations. Uttar Pradesh would witness some closures and some openings. Many see it as his promise to close down all abattoirs and to construct what he calls a "magnificent temple" at Ayodhya. Closing down of slaughter houses would hit the Muslims most as a majority of the people employed in them are Muslims.

There are altogether 25 lakh people employed in the slaughter houses. Does the government have an alternative job plan for them? 

India is one of the major exporters of meat. The industry has already suffered a knock, though the government claims that this is because Europeans have reduced their consumption of meat. If slaughter is banned, the leather industry for which Agra and Kanpur are famous would suffer. Dalits and Muslims constitute a majority of the people employed in the leather industry. They will be hit hard by the closing down of abattoirs. 

The victory of the BJP in UP has emboldened the Sangh Parivar, including the Shiv Sainiks, to take the law into their own hands. Not more than 50 of them were able to close down all eating joints serving meat, including KFC, in Gurgaon, called North India's Silicon Valley. They knew that the police would not touch them.

Modi had introduced a law in Gujarat under which anyone who slaughtered a cow or its progeny could be given punishment ranging from three years to seven years. On March 31, the law was amended to fix the punishment -- from  minimum 10 years to maximum life imprisonment.

The Indian Express   noted that the visitors' gallery in the Gujarat Assembly was filled with saffron-clad sadhus. Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said, “I am not against any food" while declaring that he wanted to make Gujarat “shakahari (vegetarian)”.

What Yogi, Modi and Rupani won't accept is that if the farmer is not allowed to sell bullocks and old cows to meat sellers, he will not be able to survive. Cows are fast disappearing in Haryana where the anti-cow slaughter law was the strictest until Gujarat amended its. Properly feeding a bullock or an old cow will cost the farmer Rs 20,000 per month. Which Indian farmer can afford it?

Let me repeat, slaughter alone can save the cow, whatever Yogi and Co. would tell their cadres. There is, meanwhile, no mistaking that some of those in the Sangh Parivar thinks that the time has come to make India a Hindu Rashtra, a carbon copy of what Nepal was under the late Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev whose unabashed admirer Yogi Adityanath is.

I may be accused of taking my cue from Aiyar but let me quote from an editorial in   The Guardian, "This is a nation that once was said to succeed in spite of the gods. Now it is going backwards because of them". Let me reiterate, theocracy is the worst form of government, whether it is a Yogi or a Metropolitan or an Imam who is at the top.

The writer, a senior journalist, can be reached at   ajphilip@gmail.com

(Published on 03rd April 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 14)#