India’s minister for women and child development, Maneka Gandhi, has grasped the third rail of Indian politics, launching a sectarian attack on Muslims and Christians for their treatment of cows.
Or has she? India’s press has not quite made up its mind as to whether Ms. Gandhi is pushing animal rights, corruption, terrorism or religion. And, from what has been printed so far in the major dailies, the press does not want to find out.
In the political jargon of the Anglosphere, the “third rail” of politics is THE issue politicians avoid discussing. In America the third rail (named for the high voltage power line that provides power for trains and subway cars) is social-security reform. For Australia it is asylum seekers, while in Britain the big three (Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats) do not discuss Muslim immigration and multiculturalism.
In India the third rail is religion in public life, or looked at from a different perspective, the secular state. This is not to say that religion does not permeate Indian politics. Rather, until the rise to power of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), polite discourse refrained from injecting sectarian issues into the body politic. This ideal never was completely realized, but it remained the ideal nonetheless. The country’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi -- a member of the BJP -- for example continues to pay homage to this belief.
Yet this week one of his cabinet colleagues, Mrs. Gandhi, appeared to be grasping the third rail with both hands.
A parenthesis or two is in order at this point. For one, Hindus do not worship cows, but revere them as a symbol of life.
Also, Maneka Gandhi is a member of the Nehru-Gandhi clan. She is the widow of Sanjay Gandhi, the son of Indira Gandhi. Following the death of her husband in an air crash, she entered politics, but broke with her mother in 1983 and formed an opposition political party.
Following Indira Gandhi’s assassination, she contested her husband’s former seat in parliament, losing to her brother in law, Rajiv Gandhi, the Congress Party nominee.
She became Minister for Environment and Forests from 1989–91, and the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment from 1998-99. She joined the BJP in 2004 and is serving her sixth term in the Lok Sabha. She is of Sikh origin, but has embraced the political mantle of Hinduism. In 2009 she sparked a minor controversy when she told reporters that there was “hardly any” difference between Sikhism and Hinduism.
In address to a conference on Sunday entitled “India for Animals”, Mrs. Gandhi called for a nationwide ban on animal slaughter. According to NDTV she said:
We are the largest beef exporters in the world and also killing them for leather production. We are actually killing more animals than China, it is appalling!
At first blush, this appears to be a story about animal rights.
Continue reading "Sacred cows in Indian reporting" by George Conger.