Maneka Gandhi of India loses animal welfare ministry, keeps lab oversight

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2002:

NEW DELHI–“What I expected has finally happened. I have
lost the MInistry today,” People for Animals founder Maneka Gandhi
e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE on July 2, nearly four years after
becoming the first Minister for Animal Welfare in the cabinet of any
nation.
Elected as an independent member of the parliament of India,
Mrs. Gandhi asked Prime Minister A.P. Vajpayee to create the animal
welfare ministry for her in 1998 as the price of her joining the
ruling coalition led by the Hindu nationalist Bharitya Janata Party.
Vajpayee complied by making animal welfare part of the mandate of the
Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment, the portfolio Mrs.
Gandhi held from August 1998 until early 2001.


Mrs. Gandhi had previously distinguished herself as a mover,
shaker, and implacable foe of corruption during two terms as
Minister of Forests and the Environment while serving in Congress
Party governments, before her final rift with Congress in July 1996
over leadership failures to address bribe-taking by prominent
politicians and public officials in connection with a dam-building
project.
Her reputation for incorruptibility served the BJP coalition
well during an April 1999 crisis over corruption that briefly toppled
the government. Walking into countless remote villages where no
other prominent member of the government would go, while battling
the after-effects of tuberculosis, Mrs. Gandhi was among the top
vote-getters for the coalition nationwide during the September 1999
election campaign that returned the Vajpayee government to office
with a stronger majority.
She attributed her surprising stamina to practicing veganism,
in a nation where approximately half the population are vegetarians
but the overwhelming majority use dairy products.
As Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, Mrs. Gandhi
routed unprecedented amounts of funding and ambitious young talent
into animal welfare projects, anti-poverty projects, and efforts to
politically and economically empower women.
Her decline in political fortune began after she was
reassigned the Ministry for Culture, as part of a larger cabinet
shuffle. The animal welfare portfolio moved to the culture ministry
with her, and was relatively unaffected, but in her new position
Mrs. Gandhi inherited responsibility for oversight of several
cultural projects begun by the preceding Congress Party regime, in
memory of her former mother-in-law, the late Prime Minister Indira
Gandhi, and former brother-in-law, Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded
Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister. Both were assassinated by Sikh
militants.
Maneka Gandhi had feuded with both, accusing Rajiv Gandhi in
particular of corrupt political dealings. His Italian-born widow
Sonia is now titular head of the Congress Party, which now leads the
parliamentary opposition.
Trying to restrain alleged cost overruns and
misappropriations in connection with the memorial projects, Maneka
Gandhi soon clashed with Sonia Gandhi, with whom she never got
along, and when Maneka Gandhi was transferred again in November 2001
to head the comparatively small and obscure Ministry for Statistics,
most Indian news media agreed that Prime Minister Vajpayee had
demoted her in deference to Sonia Gandhi.
Sonia Gandhi was sensitive enough about the allegation of
having conspired with BJP leaders to oust Maneka Gandhi that after
Maneka Gandhi was dropped from the cabinet, Congress spokesperson
Jaipal Reddy immediately denied that either Congress or Sonia Gandhi
personally had anything to do with it.
Meanwhile, another explanation had emerged for the November
2001 demotion. According to the news magazine India Today, “Mrs.
Gandhi caused a diplomatic incident” earlier in 2001 by scolding the
South Korean ambassador to India over the Korean practice of eating
tortured dogs and cats.
“When contacted, Mrs. Gandhi confirmed” having contacted the
ambassador three times in recent weeks, India Today continued. “The
first was a phone call ‘when we discovered that a Korean-owned
restaurant in Chennai was serving dog meat. I told him this was
illegal,’ Mrs. Gandhi affirmed. Soon afterward, residents of the
south Delhi neighborhood where Mrs. Gandhi lives complained that the
food habits of a Korean diplomat were causing stray dogs to
disappear. Mrs. Gandhi was again on the phone, and ‘The ambassador
didn’t deny the allegations.'”
South Korea is among India’s most important trading partners
and sources of outside investment capital.

University at risk

Again Mrs. Gandhi took the animal welfare portfolio to her
new post. Subsequently, with fewer other ministerial duties, she
escalated her work on behalf of animals. As well as promoting
enforcement of long-neglected animal welfare laws, and funding
Animal Birth Control programs to help Indian cities meet the 1997
goal of achieving no-kill control of street dogs by 2005, Mrs.
Gandhi founded the National Institute of Animal Welfare on an
eight-acre site in Faridabad, a Delhi suburb.
Conceived as the first animal welfare university in the
world, offering a four-year degree, the institute was to train
personnel to carry out the ABC programs, other projects of the
constitutionally created Animal Welfare Board of India, and the
administration of zoos, which in India must be accredited by the
Central Zoo Authority.
The campus was 40% completed, and Mrs. Gandhi was
recruiting staff in anticipation of enrolling 200 students in
residence by fall, when she lost the animal welfare ministry–and
probably lost funding for the university–as apparent result of a
high-profile confrontation with the Indian biomedical research
establishment.

Fought labs

“I am again in a battle for my life!” Mrs. Gandhi e-mailed to
ANIMAL PEOPLE on May 24. “We raided the premier AIDs research lab
in India last week and found a chamber of horrors, rescued the
animals, and took them away. Now Health Minister C.P. Thakur and
many scientists and journalists are denouncing me all over the place.
“There is a cabinet reshuffle coming up, and this is
perfectly timed for that,” Mrs. Gandhi continued, recognizing the
possibility that she might soon be politically sacrificed.
She was, but Thakur lost his job too.
Indian news media were mostly sympathetic to the cause of
scientific research. Most were sympathetic as well to the production
of vaccines and snakebite antivenins from blood serum drawn from
horses, another branch of the biomedical industry that Mrs. Gandhi
kept under close surveillance.
At the same time, there was widespread revulsion at some of
the laboratory conditions exposed by the Committee for the Purpose of
Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals, appointed by the
Animal Welfare Board and chaired by Mrs. Gandhi since February 1996.
The abuses were documented in a 110-page Pictorial Guide on
the Status of Animals in the Animal Houses of Indian Laboratories,
compiled by Dharmesh M. Solanki of the CPCSEA and published by
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals/ India, based in Mumbai,
on June 8.

Challenged king

The biomedical industry, “sacrificing” animals in the name
of science, might not have had the clout to oust Mrs. Gandhi if she
had not simultaneously been conflicting prominently with devotees of
religious animal sacrifice, including King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah
of Nepal, who visited the Goddess Kamakhya temple in Guwahati,
Assam, on June 27 to sacrifice a buffalo, a goat, a sheep, a
duck, and a pigeon.
Gyanendra was in India primarily to discuss national defense
with BJP leaders. Told that the sacrifices were planned, Mrs.
Gandhi informed his entourage and news media that they would be
illegal under the 1960 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. People
for Animal Rights applied for a restraining order against the
sacrifices, but the Jhalukbari police detachment, asked to enforce
it, failed to do so, citing an exemption in the 1960 law for
sacrifices conducted “in a manner required by religion.”
Most Hindu religious scholars agree that animal sacrifice “is
forbidden in the Hindu scriptures for the modern age,” as Brahmin
teacher Vasu Murti explained in a recent Internet denunciation of the
practice. Yet sacrifices are still routinely performed by Nepalese
Hindus, whose rituals and teachings were long isolated by geography
from the mainstream of Hindu belief, by members of the relatively
large and influential Kali cult, and by scattered rural communities.
Among the practitioners of animal sacrifice are many members
of regional Hindu fundamentalist political parties, who at the
national level support the BJP coalition.
Heavy military security kept animal welfare inspectors and
advocates at a distance from the Goddess Kamakhya temple while the
animals were killed by royal priest Acharya Raguhunath Aryal. Aryal
flew in from Kathmandu especially to do the ritual bloodletting in
front of Gyanendra, his wife Queen Komal Rajya Laxmi, and his
daughter Princess Perna.
As protest erupted from animal advocates around India,
Gyanendra returned to the temple on June 28 to sacrifice a goat.
“The king has committed an unpardonable crime by showing
utter disrespect to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act,” said
PfA spokesperson Sangeeta Goswami. “The king and the priest should
be booked and punished.”

Gains vs. sacrifice

Although Maneka Gandhi was sacrificed on the altar of
political expedience, Bihar and Jharkhand state governor V.C. Pande
on June 4 ruled via his Principal Secretary, Mithilesh Kumar, that
animal sacrifice is not “required by religion” for Hindus, and
should therefore be halted within Bihar and Jharkhand.
Pande moved at request of Acharya Kishore Kunal, vice
chancellor of the Kameshwar Singh Darbhanga Sanskrit University.
Bihar and Jharkand formed a regional Animal Welfare Board
only this year, the last state in India to do so.
The Madras High Court during the last week in July ordered
Tamil Nadu state authorities to show cause why they should not be
enjoined from allowing any animal sacrifices to occur within Tamil
Nadu. First Bench chief justice B. Subhashan Reddy and Justice D.
Murugesan acted in response to a petition brought by A.V. Krishna
Moosad of Trivandrum, who cited the Tamil Nadu Animals and Birds
Sacrifice Prohibition Act of 1957, the Tamil Nadu Animal
Preservation Act of 1958, and the 2001 Slaughter House Rule, an
amendment to the act, all of which forbid animal slaughter or
sacrifice outside of a designated, licensed, and inspected
slaughtering facility.

Butchers

Mrs. Gandhi had also recently clashed with the federal
Ministry of Agricult-ure over a five-year plan which according to the
Times of India called for lifting the national ban on beef exports,
removing restrictions on buffalo slaughter, allowing bullocks to be
killed at any age, weakening the federal Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals Act, opening more authorized slaughterhouses, moving
jurisdiction over slaughterhouse zoning from the local level to the
state level, and forming a national Meat Board, with a mandate to
double Indian per capita meat consumption.
After stripping Mrs. Gandhi of the animal welfare portfolio,
Prime Minister Vajpayee gave it to the agriculture minister.
Vajpayee soon found himself compelled to rescind it, however,
because of the conflict of interest widely perceived in India between
promoting animal welfare and promoting beef consumption. Rumors were
already flying that at least one senior agriculture ministry official
had taken a bribe for nonenforcement of animal welfare laws.
U.S. legislative bodies have never seen a conflict in
assigning enforcement of the federal Animal Welfare Act to the USDA
and putting state agriculture departments in charge of enforcing
humane laws, but rather than cite the U.S. example to defend the
initial reassignment, Vajpayee passed the animal welfare portfolio
next to current Minister for Forests and the Environment. T.R. Baalu,
of Chennai.
Mrs. Gandhi told ANIMAL PEOPLE that she was not well
acquainted with Baalu, but knew the ministry, having held the same
post herself and having handled animal welfare matters from that
office under the Congress regime.
It was as Minister for Forests and Environment that Mrs.
Gandhi in 1989 initiated legal action to enforce a long neglected
provision of the 1972 Indian Wildlife Act, allowing confiscation of
all lions, tigers, leopards, nonhuman primates, and bears from
traveling shows and circuses, and it was in cooperation with the
present ministry staff that Mrs. Gandhi finally started the
confiscations in May 2001, after winning a decade-long court battle
with representatives of the circus industry.
“Over the past year, the ministry’s Central Zoo Authority
has, with the help of state police and nongovernmental
organizations, seized and relocated 158 lions, 38 tigers, six bears
and two panthers,” the Times of India said. “Under the new
notification, Baalu will now look after prevention of cruelty to
animals, matters relating to pounds and cattle trespass, and the
administration of `gaushalas’ and `gausadans’ (cowsheds and houses).”

“Sister Maneka”

Baalu was expected to be mainly a caretaker for the animal
welfare portfolio, which political analysts suggested would soon
fade to obscurity–but he had other ideas.
If the biomedical industry really hoped they were rid of Mrs.
Gandhi, Baalu had a surprise for them.
“Asked on Tuesday about former minister Maneka Gandhi
continuing as chairperson of the Committee for the Purpose of Control
and Supervision of Experiments on Animals, environment minister T R
Baalu said, ‘Let her continue,'” The Times of India reported on
July 23. “Gandhi’s term as chairperson is till 2004. ‘It’s a
sensitive matter,’ said Baalu. ‘I have just taken over. Sister
Maneka is more knowledgeable than me, and there is no confrontation
between us.'”
With Mrs. Gandhi removed from the animal welfare ministry,
other opponents of her policies emerged to pursue their special
interests–among them Minister of Textiles Kashi Ram Rana, who
sought to lift a national ban imposed on the trade in shahtoosh, a
fabric made from the fur of endangered chiru antelope. International
traffic in shahtoosh is forbidden by the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species.
Noisiest, however, were foes of street dogs, seeking to
replace the ABC sterilization and vaccination programs with poisoning
or catch-and-kill. Though poisoning and catch-and-kill neither
lastingly reduce the street dog population, nor control rabies,
still a relatively common disease in India, they do create patronage
jobs for poorly skilled supporters of local politicians. Demands for
dog-killing, amplified nationally by the Times of India and the
Deccan Herald, were especially prominent in Surat and Bangalore.
Surat, as Mrs. Gandhi often mentions in explaining the ABC
approach, aggressively poisoned street dogs in August 1994. After
the dog poisoning, when the Surat rat population predictably
exploded, the city poisoned rats. Fleas carrying bubonic plague
then leaped from dying rats to humans, the most accessible alternate
hosts. The result was the deadliest outbreak of plague anywhere in
the world in half a century. At least 693 people were infected; 57
people died.

Rabies panic

C. Dhananjay, secretary for a group called Stray Dog Free
Bangalore, meanwhile drummed up public panic by asserting that
because rabid dogs sometimes bite cows, “Unless milk is well-boiled,
there is a risk of exposing children to rabies.”
The Hindu called Dhananjay’s claims “bizarre,” which was
something of an understatement.
Reporter K. Satyamurty of The Hindu also described a case in
May 2002 in which Harish Prasad, 11, was “rushed to a private
nursing home with sudden convulsions and high fever. He was
diagnosed as having rabies in the basis of a ‘water test,’ as
narrated by his father, Gopal Krishna. On the advice of the doctors
at the nursing home, the boy was removed to the Isolation Hospital
where, after showing a glass of water to the boy, the doctors
confirmed the diagnosis. The doctors had the boy’s arms and legs
tied, and told the distrought father that ‘If he is still alive, we
will treat him tomorrow.'”
Employed by the National Tubercul-osis Institute, Gopal
Krishna told institute director P. Jagota, M.D., what had happened.
“On learning that the boy was never bitten by a dog, Dr.
Jagota had him shifted to Manipal Hospital,” Satyamurty continued,
where he was found to be suffering from viral meningitis, was
properly treated, and fully recovered within a month of treatment.
Dr. Jagota told Satyamurty that most cases of alleged rabies
she hears about turn out to be misdiagnosed cases of other diseases
causing raging fever, and most cases of dogbite she hears about
result from people keeping purebred pet dogs tied up at their homes
or shops most of the time, resulting in excessive territoriality.
Street dogs who “survive the cruelty of nature, traffic,
and starvation,” Dr. Jagota said, tend to be “affectionate and
always eager to make friends with humans.” She strongly endorsed the
ABC approach to street dog population control, and recommended
adopting street dogs as pets.
Of her dismissal, Mrs. Gandhi herself wrote that, “A Zen
story may be applicable: A crow had a piece of meat in his beak and
as he flew, he was pursued by hundreds of other crows. He tried to
elude them and went up and down and sideways and whatever. Finally,
he let the piece of meat go, and the other crows sped after it.
Said the crow in relief, ‘I may have lost the meat, but I have
gained the sky.’ But is there anything to eat in the sky? We will
now find out.”

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