'Was The Govt Cow-ed, Or Cow-ardice?': Shashi Tharoor's Swipe At Modi Govt Over Withdrawal Of 'Cow Hug' Appeal

The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) had earlier appealed the public to mark Cow Hug Day on February 14 that coincides with the Valentine's Day.

Shashi Tharoor

A day after the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) withdrew its appeal to mark Valentine's Day on February 14 as Cow Hug Day, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor mocked the Union government with wordplay on Twitter. 

Tharoor asked in a tweet whether the Modi government was "cow-ed" or whether it "cow-ardice". 

Earlier on Monday, the AWBI had issued an appeal to observe Cow Hug Day on February 14. The appeal was seen as the latest action as part of the cow agenda of the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. It was also seen in context of the Hindu Right's opposition to Valentine's Day, which it sees as a Western encroachment of Indian values.

Taking a swipe at the Modi government, Tharoor said, "Was the government cow-ed by the jokes made at its expense or was it merely cow-ardice? My guess is the original appeal was an oral instruction: 'Valentine’s Day: let them hug their guy' and the last word was misheard by a Hindi Rashtravadi as gaay!"

Appealing for the celebration of Cow Hug Day, the AWBI had said it would bring individual and collective happiness. This was the latest in the long list of claims over cows in recent years which have ranged from the promotion of cow urine as a medicine to declaring cow dung as protection against radiation.

"In view of immense benefit of the cow, hugging the cow will bring emotional richness, hence will increase our individual and collective happiness. Therefore, all the cow lovers may also celebrate the February 14 as Cow Hug Day keeping in mind the importance of mother cow and make life happy and full of positive energy," said the AWBI.

The AWBI is a statutory body under the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying of the Union government. Its main function is to advise legal provisions for animal welfare.

The Hindu Right has hailed cow protection as synonymous to Indian culture. This finds echoes in the AWBI letter. The letter said "Vedic traditions are almost on the verge of extinction" under the "dazzle of Western civilisation". The Cow Hug Day thus brings together two issues dear to the Hindu Right. One, the cow. Two, opposition to Valentine's Day which it sees as a Western encroachment of Indian values.

In his tweet, Tharoor referred to the opposition of the BJP to homosexuality. The BJP-led Union government has opposed the legal recognition of same-sex marriages. In hearing on petitions seeking recognition, the Union government said in Delhi High Court that any interference with heteronormative marriages "would cause havoc". The BJP has also seen the same-sex marriage recognition as a "Left-liberal" and "Western" concept. 

"There should be a debate in Parliament and society. Some Left-liberals and activists want to imitate the west and impose such laws in the country. I hope the government will strongly oppose any such move...It would hence cause complete havoc with the delicate balance of personal laws in the country," said senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi in Parliament last year. 

The AWBI's Cow Hug Day appeal attracted ridicule on social media. In a statement, AWBI announced its withdrawal: "As directed by the Competent Authority and Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying the appeal issued by the Animal Welfare Board of India for the celebration of Cow Hug Day on 14th February 2023 stands withdrawn."