BJP and RSS, one hears, were not in favour of Cow Exams: Then Whodunnit?

25th February 2021

25th February 2021

If everything had stuck to plans, today we would have had a nationwide cow examination, courtesy Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog (RKA) through the all-powerful University Grants Commission (UGC). But it was cancelled after it triggered both derision and mirth.

Critics asked if such examinations had any relevance for a nation that spent an estimated $135 million on a moon mission in 2019.

No reasons were offered by the Aayog, an apex advisory body set up by the government with a Rs 750-crore budget in 2019, for cancellation of the online examination. The Aayog put up a pop-up notice on its website.

Aayog officials said the examination was postponed because of some “administrative reasons”. 

The Aayog also removed a link leading to reading reference material for the examination from its website after what many said were horrendous claims made by the advisory body relating to cows and its produce.

Claims which stretch reason

Consider this. The Aayog had claimed in its reference study material—vetted by this reporter—that homes laced with cow dung helped many escape the disaster of the 1984 Bhopal Gas tragedy that killed over 15,000 people.

The reference study also claimed slaughtering of bovines for several years generated acoustic anisotropy due to Einsteinian Pain Waves (EPW) emitted by dying animals. This very accumulated acoustic anisotropy is found to be related with the stress history of rocks causing earthquakes.

Leading the charge against the examination was Kerala and West Bengal, where the BJP faces the Trinamool Congress in a crucial election. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was also against the examination, according to people aware of the matter.

An estimated 500,000 people had enrolled for the examination after the UGC asked over 900 universities to ask colleges to take the online test on February 25, 2020. These universities have 39,931 colleges affiliated to them. But there were many who strongly felt that students must stay away from the government’s holy cow campaign.

Aayog chairperson Dr Vallabh Kathiria, a cancer surgeon and an MP from Rajkot, did not respond to repeated calls and messages from this reporter. Kathiria, who had once claimed that all he was saying has solid, scientific basis, left Delhi and reached Rajkot after protests mounted against his plan for the national examination.

Officials of the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying had objected to the study leaflet, calling it pseudoscience, said people familiar with the matter. 

But there were others who had defended the examination when it was announced.

“It is all about education, it was to help students understand the importance of the cow and its multiple benefits to mankind,” UGC general secretary Rajnish Jain said. In his view, the cow science examination was not to politicise the animal, considered sacred by the Hindus.

But the move backfired within days of the announcement.

For example, Delhi University, which is next door to the UGC, did not receive the notice and did not react officially. But officials of Delhi University met up with their counterparts in the UGC and asked them why the controlling body of universities was plugging such an examination that could eventually be “a laughing stock”.

By the time the news of the examination went around and protests started happening, the examination was called off by the RKA. 

The strongest objection to the examination came from Kolkata’s Jadavpur University which outrightly rejected the move. “No one will appear for such an examination,” heads of the Comparative Literature and Bengali Language said that they have already asked their students not to participate in the examination, which was announced on January 5, 2020.

“This will not help education, this is totally unwarranted. There is no scientific basis in this one,” Rajeshwar Singh, head of Bengali language, said in a telephonic interview.

“Why not ask students to take an examination of ways to save the masses from the impact of COVID-19, or save the Ganges? Or boost the village economy, even suggest ways to increase jobs lost during the pandemic?” remarked Pabitra Sarkar, linguistic expert and counted among Bengal’s top intellectuals.

Agreed Syamantak Das, head of the university’s Comparative Literature department. “My students have not even bothered to react,” Das said.  Strangely, the university’s vice-chancellor, Suranjan Das, did not issue any statement relating to the cow science examination.

The Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad also ridiculed the examination as the BJP’s attempt to saffronise the country’s education sector and spread superstition about cows. “It's condemnable and shocking that the UGC, an apex body of university education in the country, is encouraging the students to take part in an exam based on an unscientific text full of blunders,” the Parishad said in a press release.

The parishad said the Aayog website has many claims which do not have any scientific backing.

“The website contains claims that there are traces of gold in the milk of indigenous cows due to which its milk has a light yellowish tint. It also says the cow's milk protects humans from nuclear radiations and many more,” the parishad said, adding Article 51A (h) of the Constitution of India says it shall be the duty of every citizen to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.

If the protests were one reason for the Aayog to cancel the examination, the other was purely political. Highly placed sources within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the party high command was alerted about the huge criticism the party would face if such examinations were held across India.

“The BJP did not want this examination to be used by its political rivals as an election weapon, especially in Bengal where the saffron brigade is routinely criticised for its Hindutva agenda,” said an insider.

The person, who has deep knowledge about the BJP’s thought process, said the party was careful not to do anything that could subject it to ridicule by the TMC.

The person further said the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the powerful think tank that routinely advises the BJP on many national and international issues, had also warned the party not to push the cow agenda so high that it embarrasses the party.

In Hindu mythology, the animal is depicted as accompanying several gods, like Shiva, who rides on his bull Nandi, or Krishna, the flautist cowherd god. In Hindu scriptures, the cow appears as Kamdhenu or the divine animal which has the power to fulfill all desires. As per the scriptures, the horns of the cows symbolise the gods, its four legs the Vedas and its udder symbolise material wealth, desire, righteousness and salvation (the four objectives of life).

“Cows have become political animals”

India’s foremost social scientist Ashish Nandy said cows are a contentious subject in India, and Hindus consider the animal to be sacred and many states have even banned their slaughter. “But everything has a natural process. There should not be a political push to this cow movement, then it will become a comical affair. It has actually become a subject of laughter and fear both. Pushing cows as a living heritage of humanity needs scientific backing. Today, cows have become political ˇanimals,” Nandy told me in an interview.

Nandy said the UGC push was to further the BJP’s agenda to protect the animal and even prove to the world that Indian cows are the best in the world. “Do we really need it?” asked Nandy.

Nandy should know. The Aayog website pushes vegetarianism. The move is simple. If you are pushing to promote cows with a huge budget from the government, you will push many to drink milk.

The product is now available in fancy bottles and comes laced with ice cream, fruit juice, even turmeric which many are calling wonder drink. And then there are milk-based products like ghee, cottage cheese and curd. There are other benefits as well. You could open up cowsheds across the country, and seek swanky flats right opposite the huge temples in Vrindavan.

Nandy said the UGC is for the welfare of teachers and students. “Why get into these kinds of political debates when your work profile is different? What will those who will take the examination get, jobs in the Ayush ministry?”

But the Aayog is not listening. It has already established the Kamdhenu Chair or Kamdhenu Study or Research Centre in all colleges and universities across the country and even declared its move as a countrywide movement appreciated by many.

There are reports that the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs is working on a concept of a Kamdhenu Nagar which will have gymnasiums, swimming pools, community centres and also a cow shelter that will house approximately 20 cows.

And the Ministry of Tourism is working on a cow circuit for both domestic and international travellers.

India’s big cow debate is far from over.

(This is a reprint from MoneyControl). 

Shantanu Guha Ray is a Wharton-trained journalist and award-winning author. He lives in Delhi with his wife and two pets.  He won the 2018 Crossword award for his book, Target, which probed the NSEL payment crisis.


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