biggest exporter of beef!" he wrote in August last year. "Our future generation is not getting sufficient milk and this government wants to kill cows that provide us a 'ladder for life.' I'm sure that you will contribute your might in stopping such an insane act."
Modi has not commented on the trade in recent months, perhaps because he is trying to downplay his Hindu nationalism ahead of national elections to be held by next May. The BJP has won sweeping victories in local state elections this month, sending the stock market to a record high on expectations Modi, widely seen to be more business-friendly than the current Congress Party-led government, will lead his party to power.
In India, the beef issue can even stir sectarian divisions. Beef production is dominated by Muslims, a minority in the country. Many Muslims mistrust the BJP and Modi, because he ran the state of Gujarat during anti-Muslim riots there in 2002. Modi denies any role in the riots or bias against Muslims.
This year's unrest along the Delhi-Jaipur highway shows how quickly beef can stir anger. Passers-by reported a foul smell coming from a truck that had broken down; rumours spread that it was loaded with cow meat. Slogan-shouting youths swept through the town of Dharuhera, some 40 km (25 miles) from Delhi, ransacking the truck and tearing out its cargo of ice-covered meat. By the time police calmed the riot, 74 trucks and buses had been burned.
In the end, the cargo turned out to be buffalo meat, not cow. But Sailesh Soni, a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a powerful Hindu nationalist group that backs the BJP and wants stricter enforcement of a ban on cattle killing, said all Hindus should be ready to defend all cattle.
"If somebody targets my mother, what would I do? I will stand and save her, isn't it? Likewise, you should get up, gather and save our mother cow," he said.
In a cavern under the well-swept courtyard of a Hindu temple off the narrow streets of Old Delhi, a calf blinks as it takes in the world for the first time and nuzzles for its mother's udder.
This is a goshala, a shelter for cows brought there by Hindus as thanks to the gods for good fortune, or simply pulled in off the streets where they wander, disrupting traffic and feeding on rubbish.
Hindus believe that Nandi, a bull, is the