ON THE AFTERNOON OF INDEPENDENCE DAY, I met with former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda at his Safdarjung Lane residence in New Delhi. The 77-year-old, often regarded as the ‘son of the soil politician,’ was visiting from Bangalore to attend the Independence Day parade at the Red Fort. Only a week earlier, Gowda was in Delhi with 40 state legislators in tow, making an appeal to President Pratibha Patil in the form of a three-page memorandum—to dissuade the president from giving her assent to a new bill sent by the Government of Karnataka: the Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill 2010.
This March, Karnataka’s BJP government passed the Cattle Bill, banning the slaughter of cows, bulls, and buffalo. Under the bill, if you’re found selling, eating, or possessing beef, you could be imprisoned for up to seven years. But in July, State Governor HR Bhardwaj declined to give his assent and left the decision to President Patil. In his press note, Bhardwaj, a former union law minister, said: “I feel that the bill infringes [on] fundamental rights of the citizens and it is against the rulings of the apex court. The bill adversely affects lakhs of people’s lives and lacks legislative competence.”
Deve Gowda was among the first few politicians to speak out against the bill. On that humid afternoon on 15 August, Gowda wore his traditional white dhoti and waistcoat with a pocket stitched at the middle, right on his stomach. The handloom cloth was transparent, the 100-rupee notes in his pocket clearly visible.