The “donkeys of Gujarat” are the latest double entendre in Uttar Pradesh, part of an increasingly loaded political rhetoric intended to bray down opponents in the heat of a month-long and staggered assembly election.
But the political verbal duel has aroused curiosity towards the endangered beige and chestnut, horse-like animal found only in Gujarat’s Little Rann of Kutch more than the state’s commercial on the species, featuring Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.
The Indian Wild Ass, or ghudkhar in local Gujarati, attracts tourists from across the globe, bringing about Rs 30 lakh every year to the Gujarat tourism department.
“This year the tourist footfall in the Little Rann is nearly 15,000 so far,” a forest official said.
The red list of International Union for Conservation of Nature moved this Indian wild donkey from the “vulnerable” to “endangered” category a couple of years ago.
But the tag belies a rare Indian conservation success story as the population of the species has gone up steadily from 3,997 in 2010 to 4,451 five years later.
The initiative to protect this Schedule-I animal started decades ago when an area spread over 5,000 square km in the Little Rann, about 150km from Ahmedabad, was declared a wild ass sanctuary in 1973.
The wild donkey’s popularity spiked after Gujarat tourism took out an advertisement campaign that 74-year-old Bachchan has anchored.
“The next time someone calls you a donkey, don’t mind it. Just thank them … I tell you why,” the actor says in his opening comments in the commercial, which starts with him entering the sanctuary in an open vehicle.
He goes on to describe the unique characteristics of the animal, calling them handsome, highly talented and agile sprinters. The wild ass is quick on the canter, clocking 70kmph.
He concludes: “Gadha koi gaali nahi, tareef ki thaali hai (Donkey is not a cuss word, it’s a platter full of praises).”
Forest officials said the species was found in west Asia and southern India before the turn of the century, but it is currently restricted to Little Rann.
UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav stirred quite a poll hee-haw when he advised Bachchan not to promote Gujarat’s gadhe or asses — viewed as a nuanced attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is from that state.
Gadha is an oft-heard insult for being stupid — attached to the animal’s perceived low mental faculty.
Modi’s response was quick. He said he was proud to work like the “loyal” beast of burden for the country’s 1.25 billion people.