In mid August, news broke that more than 200 cows had starved to death in a shelter in Chhattisgarh owned by a Bharatiya Janata Party leader named Harish Verma. After the reports appeared, Verma protested that he had not received funds that the government had promised him for the shelter.
But the irony could not have been starker. The BJP has long been opposed to cow slaughter, and the central government as well as the state governments that it heads have clamped down on it. The years since 2014, when the party came to power at the centre, have seen an escalation of tensions around the issue, and multiple incidents of people lynched on suspicion of possessing beef. Yet, in Chhattisgarh, one of the party’s own leaders had allowed cows under his care to die prolonged, agonising deaths.
The incident highlighted the deep tension in India between the economics and politics of protecting cows, as well as other cattle, such as buffalo. Over the decades, numerous leaders and groups have sought to promote the cause, urging that even old and unviable cattle be protected from slaughter. They have argued that cattle should be housed and cared for in shelters. But the economic viability of this solution has never been fully analysed. Despite this lacuna, events over the past century suggest that political rhetoric has drowned out the economic realities of the issue.