Hugging a cow on Valentine’s Day is no longer being encouraged by the Indian government – despite it previously asking people to do so to promote Hindu values.

The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) retracted its “Cow Hug Day” appeal after it attracted criticism from political rivals and social media users.

The Indian government department had called on citizens to deviate from Western romantic gestures celebrated on Valentine’s Day.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst, said the call to hug cows had been “absolutely crazy, defying logic”.

He added that the decision to withdraw the appeal was more “to prevent the politics of Hindutva [Hindu nationalism] from being ridiculed in the face of severe criticism from all quarters”.

The AWBI reneged on its appeal on Friday saying it “stands withdrawn”.

It was only on Wednesday when its statement read that “hugging cows [would] bring emotional richness and increase individual and collective happiness”.

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It added that the cow is the “backbone of Indian culture and rural economy… because of its nourishing nature like [a] mother.”

There were mixed reactions to the initial announcement as some posted videos of cows rejecting being hugged and charging off.

Others wanted to clarify that the appeal was more for following one’s own culture, as opposed to “blindly” following Western values.

Young Indians typically spend Valentine’s Day crowding parks and restaurants, exchanging gifts and holding parties.

Cow cuddling is nothing new either – with it being considered therapeutic in parts of the world, and in The Netherlands where it is known as “koe knuffelen”.

Devout Hindus worship the cow – known as gau mata, or “mother cow” – and most states in India have banned cow slaughter.

In recent years, certain 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 goes against traditional values and promotes promiscuity.

Hindu nationalist groups such as Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal have said such raids help reassert a Hindu identity.

Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi say his government has pushed a Hindu agenda, seeking the religion’s supremacy in a secular nation known for its diversity.

While Hindus comprise almost 80% of the nearly 1.4 billion people, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains account for most of the rest.

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