Is Rajnath Singh's anti-cow slaughter stand damaging ties with Bangladesh?

Rajnath Singh's biggest 'achievement' as Home Minister is badly straining ties with Bangladesh — a small neighbour which has unquestioningly pandered to India's every whim and fancy under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since 2009.

SNM Abdi September 02, 2015 19:47:06 IST
Is Rajnath Singh's anti-cow slaughter stand damaging ties with Bangladesh?

Rajnath Singh's biggest 'achievement' as Home Minister is badly straining ties with Bangladesh — a small neighbour which has unquestioningly pandered to India's every whim and fancy under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since 2009.

Bangladeshis today are angered by skyrocketing beef prices and an acute shortage of sacrificial animals ahead of Id-ul-Zoha on 25 September. Both problems are the direct outcome of Singh's dogged pursuit of Hindutva principles which fly in the face of economics and are against India's national interest.

In December 2014 Singh decided to take the BJP's cow rhetoric and beef banning campaign to an altogether different level. He ordered the para-military Border Security Force at his command to stop India's surplus, non-milk producing cattle from going to Bangladesh, halting an informal trade determined by supply and demand that had been going on for decades without any hiccups.

Before the clampdown on Singh's express orders, around 25 lakh cattle went annually to Bangladesh in the USD 1 billion-a-year trade. This trade benefited the BSF and Border Guards Bangladesh apart from businessmen in both countries. Three out of four cows slaughtered in Bangladesh were from India.

Is Rajnath Singhs anticow slaughter stand damaging ties with Bangladesh

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. AFP

Today the cattle trade is down 80-85 percent. By BSF estimates,  5.05 lakh cattle were sent to Bangladesh between January and March 2014. The figure dropped to 1.2 lakh in the same period this year.

The price of beef and cows has gone up by 40 percent in Bangladesh this year because of Singh's determination not to let Indian cattle cross the 4000 km long international border separating the two countries. Prices are expected to soar even higher as Id-uz-Zoha approaches when the demand for cattle is at its highest. Bangladesh is trying to source cows from Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal. But India's crackdown is clearly hurting.

Three noteworthy aspects of the Hindutva-driven clampdown are Singh's gloating and crowing over his 'achievement', its impact on a friendly neighbour like Bangladesh, and last but not least, the financial burden on Indian taxpayers for starving Bangladesh of beef.

Patting his own back, on 8 August, 2015 Singh told a seminar on cow preservation organised by Rashtriya Godhan Maha Sangh and the Ministry of Agriculture: "Bangladesh high commission officials have told me that ever since cattle smuggling through the border has been checked, the cost of beef has shot up drastically in Bangladesh". According to media reports, Singh's statement was greeted with a big round of applause by cow lovers.

Earlier on 1 December, 2014 he exhorted jawans at BSF's 49th Raising Day: "You must stop smuggling of cows at any cost."

And on April 1, 2015, addressing BSF jawans at Angrail in West Bengal, he was ecstatic: "I am told price of beef has gone up by 30 percent due to your heightened vigil. You must further intensify your vigil so that cattle smuggling stops completely and price of beef escalates 70 to 80 percent so that the people if Bangladesh give up eating beef".

The cattle crisis in Bangladesh is the subject of a three-part series titled "Loss on Both Sides" published last month in The Daily Star, Dhaka's leading English daily, reflecting the outrage over Indian arbitrariness.

HT Imam, a political advisor to Sheikh Hasina, told Reuters, "there is absolutely no doubt" that the beef trade and leather industry are reeling as a result of India's clampdown.

Bangladesh's beef processing units, slaughter houses, tanneries and bone crushing factories have traditionally relied on Indian cattle. Syed Hasan Habib of Bengal Meat, Bangladesh's top meat exporter, also told Reuters that he had to cut international orders by 75 percent. Before the clampdown, he exported 125 tonnes of beef a year to a Gulf nations. Echoing Habib, Bangladesh Tanners Association president, Shaheen Ahmed told the news agency that of 30 of 190 tanneries had suspended work due to shortage of hides, rendering 4000 jobless.

The BJP government pro-cow and anti-beef agenda is rooted in Narendra Modi's 9 August, 2012 "pink revolution" remarks on his website. Subsequently on September 10, 2013, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat made protection of cows, construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, introduction of Uniform Civil Code and abolition of Article 370 preconditions for backing Modi's prime ministerial bid. And true enough, the BJP 2014 Poll Manifesto stated on page 41 that its government would "protect and promote cow and its progeny".

Clearly, Singh's new ambition in life is to force Bangladeshis to give up eating beef altogether - as stated in his Angrail speech. But is it fair to force indian taxpayers to foot the bill for Singh's latest obsession?

According to the findings of a study published in The Times of India on April 3, 2015, the central government will have to spend over Rs 31,000 crores annually on maintenance of cows inside India if BSF permanently stops cattle supplies to Bangladesh.

How did TOI arrive at the figure of Rs 31,000 crores? It quoted dairy industry sources saying that cows stop producing milk about five years before their death. So far, 25 lakh cattle which had stopped producing milk and their owners wanted to get rid of them, would go to Bangladesh annually. But if this trade is completely stopped, the government will have to foot the bill for feeding and keeping 25 lakh cattle in Gaushalas for five years until they die a natural death. TOI calculated that "cumulative cost like maintenance of cowsheds, feeding cows and paying cowherds' salaries would work out to Rs 31, 250 crores annually. "

TOI pointed out that the figure is four times higher than the allocation made by the Modi government for nutrition of children under the flagship Integrated Child Development Scheme!

It's still not too late. Singh should get down from his Hindutva high horse and let Bangladesh have India's surplus non-milk producing cattle as it had for decades. The clampdown doesn't make economic sense and is against the basic tenets of good neighbourliness.

SNM Abdi is a Firstpost columnist and former Deputy Editor of Outlook.

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