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India’s Gujarat state has toughened up the penalties of its existing cow protection law so that anyone convicted of slaughtering a cow can be sentenced to life imprisonment, up from the previous seven years’ incarceration.

The new rules also make the transport of a cow for slaughter punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment, and allow for authorities to confiscate the vehicle used in the crime.

The harsh new rules come as Gujarat – where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was chief minister until 2014 – gearing up to elect a new state government at the end of the year.

Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has controlled the state since 1995, hopes that an uncompromising stand on the killing of animals revered by devout Hindus as near deities will shore up its political support among the orthodox, and help it counter anti-incumbency sentiment among voters.

The move also comes as the BJP and the right wing groups that back it are trying to move India, officially a secular republic, closer to a Hindu nation, where the religious sentiments of the Hindu majority are enshrined in state policy.

The fate of cows – particular those that are aged and no longer produce milk – is highly contentious in India. While Hindus revere the animals, many Muslims, who account for 20 percent of the country’s population, willingly eat beef.

(Image: Reuters)

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