[Editor’s Note: In light of the Madhya Pradesh (BJP) government’s ban on consumption of beef, it’s relevant for us to understand RSS’s original reasons for evangelizing the cow protection movement in the 1960’s. Verghese Kurien’s autobiography (I too had a dream) casts unique light on this subject, through a burgeoning friendship that developed between Kurien and Golwalkar during their 12-year association on the committee.]
In 1967, as Chairman of NDDB, I was asked to be a member of a high-powered committee, set up by the Government of India, to look into cow protection. It was a collection of rather individualistic and interesting personages. Justice Sarkar, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was appointed its Chairman. Among the other members of this committee were Ashok Mitra, who was then Chairman of the Agricultural Prices Commission, the Shankaracharya of Puri, H.A.B. Parpia, Director of the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore and M.S. Golwalkar ‘Guruji’, the head of the RSS, the organization which had launched the entire cow protection movement.
Incredible as it might seem, this committee met regularly for twelve years. We interviewed scores of experts from all fields to get opinions of all shades on cow slaughter. It was a tedious and time-consuming process. My brief was to prevent any ban on cow slaughter. It was important for us in the dairy business to keep weeding out the unhealthy cows so that available resources could be utilized for healthy and productive cattle. I was prepared to go as far as to allow that no useful cow should be killed. This was the point on which the Shankaracharya and I invariably locked horns and got into heated arguments. I constantly asked him, ‘Your Holiness, are you going to take all the useless cows which are not producing anything and look after them and feed them till they die? You know that cannot work.’ He never had any answer to my query.
For twelve years the Government of India paid the committee members to travel to Delhi and attend the meetings. We continued like this and it was only when Morarji Desai became Prime Minister that I received a little slip of paper, which said, ‘The cow protection committee is hereby abolished.’ We were never even asked to submit a report.
However, one rather unusual and unexpected development during our regular committee meetings was that during that time, Golwalkar and I became close friends. People were absolutely amazed to see that we had become so close that whenever he saw me walk into the room he would rush to embrace me. He would take me aside and try to pacify me after our meetings, ‘Why do you keep losing your temper with the Shankaracharya? I agree with you about him. But don’t let the man rile you. Just ignore him.’
Golwalkar was a very small man — barely five feet — but when he got angry fire spewed out of his eyes. What impressed me most about him was that he was an intensely patriotic Indian. You could argue that he was going about preaching his brand of nationalism in a totally wrong way but nobody could question his sincerity. One day after one of our meetings when he had argued passionately for banning cow slaughter, he came to me and asked, ‘Kurien, shall I tell you why I’m making an issue of this cow slaughter business?’
I said to him, ‘Yes, please explain to me because otherwise you are a very intelligent man. Why are you doing this?’
‘I started a petition to ban cow slaughter actually to embarrass the government,’ he began explaining to me in private. ‘I decided to collect a million signatures for this to submit to the Rashtrapati. In connection with this work I travelled across the country to see how the campaign was progressing. My travels once took me to a village in UP. There I saw in one house, a woman, who having fed and sent off her husband to work and her two children to school, took this petition and went from house to house to collect signatures in that blazing summer sun. I wondered to myself why this woman should take such pains. She was not crazy to be doing this. This is when I realized that the woman was actually doing it for her cow, which was her bread and butter, and I realized how much potential the cow has.
‘Look at what our country has become. What is good is foreign: what is bad is Indian. Who is a good Indian? It’s the fellow who wears a suit and a tie and puts on a hat. Who is a bad Indian? The fellow who wears a dhoti. If this nation does not take pride in what it is and merely imitates other nations, how can it amount to anything? Then I saw that the cow has potential to unify the country – she symbolizes the culture of Bharat. So I tell you what, Kurien, you agree with me to ban cow slaughter on this committee and I promise you, five years from that date, I will have united the country. What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m not a fool, I’m not a fanatic. I’m just cold-blooded about this. I want to use the cow to bring out our Indianness, So please cooperate with me on this.’
Of course neither did I concur with him on this nor did I support his argument for banning cow slaughter on the committee. However, I was convinced that in his own way he was trying to instil a pride across our country about our being Indian. This side of his personality greatly appealed to me. That was the Golwalkar I knew. They had accused him of plotting the murder of Mahatma Gandhi but somehow I could never believe it. To me he came across as an honest and outspoken man and I always thought that if he were the Hindu fanatic that he was made out to be, he would never have been my friend.