C&B Notes

On The Udder Hand

Despite broadly rich public equity valuations, we are following India with increasing interest.  It will be the world’s most populous country within 30 years, and its global importance will continue to grow.  Narendra Modi is also one of the world’s most intriguing leaders.  But, as this story highlights, every country has its sacred cows even if they do not make sense to foreigners.

In 2004 the state government, controlled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party whose orthodox Hindu supporters revere cows as near deities, passed a new law banning all cattle slaughter.  The legislation — which also prohibits taking aged cows out of the state for slaughter — was amended in 2012 to extend prison sentences and to shift the burden of proof on to suspects, who are now presumed guilty unless they can prove their innocence. With patrols of aggressive youth acting as enforcers, the ban upended the economics of keeping dairy cattle, destroying a thriving market for aged cows or male calves, which were previously valued for meat and hides.  Today, unwanted bovines are just dumped, under cover of darkness, along highways or in other villages, resulting in a sharp surge in feral cattle.  “People can’t afford to feed them so they just abandon them at night,” Mr Lal says.  “Crops are being destroyed by both bulls and abandoned cows.  If we are awake, we chase them away from the fields.  Otherwise, they just destroy everything.”

Already the world’s largest milk producer, India is struggling to keep pace with the demands of a more affluent population for nutritious food.  But stray cattle are a growing problem as an ascendant BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, uses its expanding power to strengthen cow protection laws and restrict the bovine trade, fulfilling its longstanding pledge to defend the gau mata, or “cow mother”.  The disruption of complex supply chains that had linked Indian dairy farmers to leather and meat exports worth about $11bn in 2016, highlighted a fundamental contradiction at the heart of Mr. Modi’s administration.  In 2014, the prime minister was swept to power on a promise to accelerate economic growth and create new opportunities for the 12m young Indians entering the job market each year.  But his promise of economic revival was laced with an undercurrent of Hindu nationalism, which seeks to privilege the religious sensibilities of India’s Hindu majority in public policy.



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