Why is Mohan Bhagwat 'beefing' up his pracharaks?

I do not think farmers, Dalits, tribals and Muslims who have been victims of cow vigilantism will be too amused by Bhagwat’s generosity. But he must worry about his pracharaks lest they get spoiled

RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat
RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat

Sujata Anandan

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat appears to have offended many of his pracharaks by asking them to be prepared to eat beef. Bhagwat talks through his hat most of the time, and almost always through both sides of his mouth. But this time, there was one thing he said that struck a chord with me.

Of course, his reason for saying many pracharaks are keen to support the underprivileged by eating beef was as convoluted as any other statement he may have made in the past.

But I suspect he has had practical experience of the desires among RSS pracharaks, compelled to live unnatural lives, that flow in many directions. And one of them is clearly the desire to eat whatever they wish to eat.

Years ago, I was part of a luncheon for visiting MLAs from Uttar Pradesh belonging to different political parties, ostensibly on a study tour to see how Bombay and Maharashtra were managing their infrastructure.

At a top south Bombay hotel, journalists alternated with politicians at the long dining table, with vegetarians placed at the other end from non-vegetarians for convenience.

Seated next to me was a BJP MLA, opposite us was one from the Samajwadi Party whose 18-year-old son, studying in one of the city’s colleges, was rather late in making it to the hotel.

When he finally arrived, we were fully into our meal, but with the usual lack of sensitivity of teenagers, this boy, now squeezed in next to his vegetarian father and opposite the vegetarian BJP MLA, ordered a beef steak.

His father was embarrassed, but the BJP MLA generously waved away any objections. However, when the boy’s meal arrived, our man could not help casting longing, desirous eyes at his plate. It got so bad that the boy was compelled to ask him if he wanted a taste. The BJP MLA jumped at the offer!

Beef is still taboo to me, without any of the RSS bigotry, but this man cut into the steak, hived off a huge piece of meat, and began to chew with relish.

Almost as though he was in the throes of ecstasy, he said, “Mmm, bada hi swadisht hai ye (this is delicious)!” even as the young boy looked miserable at having half his steak eaten up by his father’s colleague.

I have come across many such apparent bigots in later years breaking all taboo to eat beef, and I wonder now if Bhagwat has too, and is, therefore, sanctioning it before the hypocrisy becomes too apparent and pracharaks begin to be exposed for it.

Bhagwat is right in that beef is an essential need for tribals and Dalits in the country. Some years ago, when Ramdas Athawale had not yet allied with the BJP and the Sarvodaya movement was holding major demonstrations at the Deonar abattoir in Mumbai, Asia’s largest, he had boldly stated, “A kilo of dal costs five times a kilo of beef. One kilo of dal will feed a family of four for only one meal, but one kilo of beef will carry them for five days.

In addition, the soup and stew from the bones will sustain them for another two days. Paneer, soy, dal, none of these vegetarian sources of protein or even chicken, lamb or fish are affordable for Dalits and tribals. So, you want to starve us out of this world altogether?”

That is as sound an economic argument in favour of eating beef as any. However, there has always been a lot of political chicanery in the contention of the BJP and RSS that cow slaughter came to India with the Muslims, and before that Hindus never ate beef.

The RSS has always feared history, or at least denied our origins, pretending that we all grew up here and that there was never any migration to India from the Central Asian steppes.

If they accepted that anthropological fact, they would have to admit that this migration preceded any religion — Hinduism always having been just a way of life — and the migrants were a pastoral society whose entire economy was based on cattle rearing and that included culling of all animals big or small, including cows.

For all that they pretend to know our scriptures, RSS ideologues will not mention references to cow slaughter in ancient Vedic texts, including the Rigveda, which mentions the yagyas in ancient times, in which horses, sterile cows, bulls and other animals were routinely sacrificed and later consumed by kings and their subjects.

Sterile cows. Now that is also the point of cow slaughter in modern India. I spent a lot of time with Sarvodaya workers and noticed that no fertile cows were ever slaughtered at the Deonar abattoir because milch animals were barred from culling right from 1955.

Only young bulls, and old, uneconomical cows and buffaloes were brought to the abattoir, and that is also the economic principle followed by farmers who sell off only non-productive cows and any excess population of bulls.

Preventing such sales, as we know now, has wreaked havoc across the agricultural sector in north India, with those still following the practice managing their economies much better.

The cow became holy only once India moved from being a pastoral to an agricultural society, and there was the simultaneous stratification of the caste system, with the cows becoming a precious dakshina or gift to Brahmins for services rendered to the people.

First, there was a ban on slaughtering the Brahmin’s cow, then the ban extended to all cows, sterile or fertile. This Brahminical interpretation of cow slaughter is what the RSS now wishes to impose upon us, but then Mohan Bhagwat has probably realised that with 80 per cent of all Indians and 70 per cent of Hindus unapologetically non-vegetarian, the RSS will neither be able to sustain the politics nor the economics of cow slaughter for too long.

But Bhagwat, in typical style, also comes up with fantastic theories about meat eaters: they consume a lot of water needed to clean the meat (as though vegetables, pulses and cereals don’t), despite the ongoing cow vigilantism in the country, pracharaks must not hesitate to eat beef if it brings them closer to the beef eaters (does he mean tribals, Dalits or Muslims?), etc.

I do not think farmers, Dalits, tribals and Muslims who have been victims of cow vigilantism will be too amused by Bhagwat’s generosity. But he should worry about his pracharaks – with such official sanction, they might find steaks so delicious, like that UP MLA, that they could become permanently addicted to beef!

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