Is Cow politics a latest pitch in competitive populism?

The Madhya Pradesh government, which last week formed a "Cow Cabinet", is planning to impose a cess to generate additional funds for operating cow-shelters across the state. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who chaired the first meeting of the cow welfare panel recently, said the Gaushalas (cow sheds) will be operated by the government with the support of competent and willing social organizations and self-help groups, and additional funds will be generated, if needed, by way of cow cess. Interestingly, the ministers of Animal Husbandry, Forest, Panchayat and Rural Development, Revenue, Home and Farmers'' Welfare departments will be part of this cabinet and it would be to be the first such body in the country.
No doubt, the cow is a revered animal for many. We used to feed the first "roti" to cows. Similarly, we used to feed the last roti to dogs. Such was the concern for animals in our Indian culture -- which is vanishing now. Former Chief Minister Kamal Nath once had alleged that the number of cows had decreased from 2.19 crore to 1.96 crores in the last five years. He had also alleged that During Shivraj Singh Chouhan's  previous rule, 23,13,000 cows had disappeared. According to the Centre’s livestock census, there has been a drastic reduction in the bovine population in the state.
But when MP is lagging on many human development indicators, prioritising animal welfare with special taxes can wait. Cesses, if at all preferred, must benefit those fund starved sectors with the greatest potential to improve human capital. On other hand, Madhya Pradesh has also picked up on self-defeating policies like job reservations for locals, which hinders investments into the state. Cow politics may be the latest pitch in competitive populism, but enlightened politics everywhere puts citizens first.
Instead, more states should follow the Karnataka model of providing children at risk of malnutrition the benefit of both protein-rich eggs and milk. Vegetarianism must be a personal choice, not a state imposition. On cow welfare too, encourage voluntary organisations to do more. Let tax funds flow towards humane welfare.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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