The Indian government has withdrawn its appeal for citizens to mark Valentine’s Day next week not as a celebration of romance, but as “Cow Hug Day”, to better promote Hindu values.
The appeal had attracted widespread criticism from political rivals and on social media.
A terse statement issued by the government-run Animal Welfare Board of India said the appeal issued on Wednesday “stands withdrawn”.
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst, said the call to hug cows had been “absolutely crazy, defying logic”.
He added: “The decision to withdraw the government appeal was to prevent the politics of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) from being ridiculed in the face of severe criticism from all quarters.”
Young, educated Indians typically spend Valentine’s Day crowding parks and restaurants, exchanging gifts and holding parties.
The Animal Welfare Board had said Wednesday that “hugging cows will bring emotional richness and increase individual and collective happiness”.
Devout Hindus, who worship cows as holy, say the Western holiday of Valentine’s Day goes against traditional Indian values.
In recent years, Hindu hard-liners have raided shops selling Valentine’s Day items, burned cards and gifts, and chased hand-holding couples out of restaurants and parks, insisting that the day promotes promiscuity.
Hindu nationalist groups such as Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal say such raids help reassert a Hindu identity.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been pushing a Hindu agenda, seeking the religion’s supremacy in a secular nation known for its diversity.
Hindus comprise nearly 80% of the nearly 1.4 billion people.
Muslims account for 14%, while Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains account for most of the remaining 6%.
The cow has long been embedded in the Hindu psyche and is deeply respected by many.
Most states in India have banned cow slaughter.