The irresistible urge to mix politics and religion usually comes at the expense of secularism, tolerance and vulnerable minorities. We saw this recently in Asia with extremist Islamic groups spewing anti-Chinese hate speech to defeat the incumbent governor of Jakarta, the ebbing tide of secularism in Bangladesh, insurgency in the Philippines and the resurgence of violence targeting Muslims in Sri Lanka with apparent impunity. Power politics and hatemongering in the name of religion sows seeds of instability and violence.
The riptide of politics and religion is manifest in the agenda of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who embraces hindutva, a Hindu chauvinism that sanctifies and perpetuates the politics of hate and "othering" in the name of religion. It is the calling card of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the 2014 elections, the BJP campaigned on the slogan "Vote for Modi, give life to the cow" and "The cow will be saved, the country will be saved," cashing in on the Hindu belief that cows are holy. The BJP subsequently made good on its promise to ban the selling of cows for slaughter in 18 states in India so far and has established hostels where cows are cared for in their dotage. India is therefore a nice place for cows, but what about the poor?
The hypocrisy is jarring given that India is a major exporter of beef, accounting for almost one-quarter of the global market and earning more than $4 billion a year. Surely if religious compassion was foremost in politicians' minds, they might show more for the masses of Indians living in abject poverty and farmers driven to suicide because of debts they can't repay. Why are cows more sacred than these people? Whether Christian, Muslim or outside the fold of upper-caste Hinduism, beef is one of the few cheaply available sources of protein. India is rightly proud of being the largest democracy, but failing to uphold the rule of law and allowing self-appointed posses to engage in extrajudicial killings targeting Muslims tarnishes the nation's dignity and is an assault on human rights.