New Delhi: Demands to declare the cow as the national animal in place of the endangered tiger have grown, with over 100,000 individuals and groups writing to the Union government, many hoping to appeal to the pro-Hindu leanings of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that leads it.

The Union government is now pondering the demand, which has come in from across the country, mainly from right-wing organizations.

Demands to institutionalize the sacred status enjoyed by the cow in the Hindu religion have been made for years. However, they have gathered momentum following the BJP’s emergence as the largest party in Parliament and Narendra Modi’s elevation as Prime Minister.

The ministry of environment and forests has received most of the appeals in the past few months, said a senior official at the ministry, with a large number of them coming in from Maharashtra.

“There are over 20,000 such representations from Maharashtra alone," the environment ministry official said. As many as 15,000 appeals have been sent from just one organization—Jai Gurudev Mangal from the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra.

Such a status would mean the government would have to set aside a dedicated budget and launch a protection programme for cows. The tiger, which is India’s national animal and the elephant, the national heritage animal, both have dedicated welfare and protection programmes for them.

The BJP-led Maharashtra government recently banned the sale and possession of beef in addition to an existing prohibition on cow slaughter. The move has prompted protests and the issue is before the Bombay high court.

Cow slaughter is also banned in states such as Delhi, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. It is, however, allowed in states like Kerala, West Bengal and several north-eastern states.

“There is a certain respect in feelings towards cows in our country, but it is a subject of the Union home ministry," the environment ministry official said.

“They have to take a decision on declaring the cow as the national animal. Any national declaration comes from the home ministry only. They would be taking a view. It has to be also cleared by the Prime Minister," he added.

Asked about the sudden surge in representations received by the ministry, the official said there is a certain “movement and thrust" towards protection of cows at present.

“We have over one lakh representations from organizations, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), holy men and others. We have taken up the issue with the home ministry because our role is only limited to cruelty against animals," the environment ministry official added.

The Sanatan Brahma Foundation, apparently close to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s ideological mentor and parent body, had sought national animal status for the cow last August.

Another organization that sent a representation to the environment ministry on the issue a few months ago is Delhi-based NGO Gau Gyan Foundation, which works towards cow protection and welfare with volunteers from across India.

“Killing cows is a symbolic killing of the idea of India and there is a huge organized cattle mafia in India. We need to protect our cows and thus it should be declared as the national animal. A cow protection task force should also be set up like anti-terrorism squads," said Jagpreet Luthra, a spokesperson for the Gau Gyan Foundation.

According to the livestock census of 2012, the number of cows in India hit 122.9 million—a 6.52% increase over their numbers in the 2007 census. India is also among the top beef exporters globally.

Government sources said that a committee was formed at a home ministry meeting last week to look at ways to tighten security along the India-Bangladesh border in order to check cattle smuggling.

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