India Today - - BIG STORY | COW POLITICS - By Kaushik Deka with Uday Mahurkar

On May 23, when the BJP-led NDA govern­ment is­sued a no­ti­fi­ca­tion ban­ning the sale of cat­tle for slaughter, three states erupted in protest: Ker­ala, Tamil Nadu and West Ben­gal. Though the ban in­cludes cow, calf, bull, bul­lock, buf­falo, heifer, steer and camel, the protests cen­tred around the cow, as it is the pro­tec­tion of this an­i­mal that the saf­fron party is con­sumed with. And the prime mover of this new rule, ac­cord­ing to sources, is BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah, who has been un­equiv­o­cal about his stand on cow slaughter. “One of the big­gest chal­lenges be­fore In­dia is how to save its cat­tle wealth from per­ish­ing,” Shah has told in­dia today on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions. “If cat­tle wealth de­creases, the pros­per­ity of the farmer too de­creases.”

The Sangh pari­var has long ad­vo­cated a ban on cow slaughter across the na­tion. How­ever, it is also an in­te­gral part of the Modi govern­ment’s po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal plans for the fu­ture. As prime min­is­ter, Modi has not said much on the is­sue, but as Gu­jarat chief min­is­ter, he had made an­ti­cow slaughter laws more strin­gent in the state. Though the new di­rec­tive is not just about cows, the BJP is happy to see it be­com­ing a de­bate about cow slaughter. With only 7.5 per cent of In­di­ans eating

beef, going by National Sam­ple Sur­vey Of­fice (NSSO) data for the 68th round, the party does not see beef-eaters as an elec­toral threat. Cow slaughter is for­bid­den in 18 states. The BJP now aims to ful­fil the RSS agenda of mak­ing it ban na­tion­wide.

The three states, which have a sig­nif­i­cant beef-eating pop­u­la­tion and where cow slaughter is al­lowed, saw the May 23 no­ti­fi­ca­tion as an at­tempt by the cen­tral govern­ment to ban the prac­tice in­di­rectly. The di­rec­tive makes it im­pos­si­ble for farm­ers to sell cows or the other an­i­mals men­tioned. While the chief min­is­ters of Ker­ala and West Ben­gal chal­lenged the au­thor­ity of the Union govern­ment in is­su­ing the no­ti­fi­ca­tion, the Madras High Court stayed its im­ple­men­ta­tion for four weeks.

There was re­bel­lion within the BJP too. In Meghalaya, which has the highest per­cent­age of a state’s pop­u­la­tion eating beef, two BJP lead­ers quit the party. In Ma­nipur, an­other BJPruled state, chief min­is­ter N. Biren Singh de­fended his party say­ing beef won’t be banned in his state and the cen­tral govern­ment was only try­ing to reg­u­late the cat­tle mar­ket. Arunachal chief min­is­ter Pema Khandu an­nounced his beef-eating habits on national tele­vi­sion as did his party col­league and Union min­is­ter of state for home af­fairs Kiren Ri­jiju on so­cial me­dia.

In fact, the saf­fron party’s con­tin­ued en­gage­ment with cow pol­i­tics, which earned it rich div­i­dends in most north In­dian states (see graphic), has caused dis­com­fort among party lead­ers in the eastern and south­ern states where the BJP plans to ex­pand its base. In Meghalaya, where 58 per cent of the meat comes from cows and bulls, the ban might dent the BJP’s plans to cap­ture power in the elec­tions next year.

In its de­fence, the govern­ment claims the no­ti­fi­ca­tion doesn’t ban the slaughter of cow or other an­i­mals, only tries to pre­vent smug­gling to other coun­tries and cru­elty in cat­tle mar­kets. Ac­cord­ing to op­po­si­tion Hills State Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Party leg­is­la­tor Ar­dent Ba­sa­iaw­moit’s state­ment in the Meghalaya assem­bly ear­lier this year, over 8,000 cat­tle have been seized in Meghalaya in the past five years along the Indo-Bangladesh bor­der. Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial data on live­stock seized along the in­ter­na­tional bor­der be­tween Jan­uary 2014 and De­cem­ber 2016, cows and bulls ac­counted for less than 11 per cent, of which some 40 per cent are bulls and an­other 40 per cent calves, 95 per cent of them male. Th­ese fig­ures in­di­cate that mostly un­pro­duc­tive cat­tle finds its way to cat­tle mar­kets con­trary to the gen­eral per­cep­tion that large num­bers of milch cat­tle are smug­gled for slaughter.

The BJP, mean­while, main­tains the di­rec­tive has noth­ing to do with cow pol­i­tics. “That’s the rea­son we have included other an­i­mals in the di­rec­tive,” says a se­nior BJP leader who is quick to point out that the new order is ac­tu­ally an im­ple­men­ta­tion of a 2015 Supreme Court di­rec­tive ask­ing the govern­ment to stop cow smug­gling and re­form the cat­tle mar­kets. “If the goal was to pro­tect only cows, we would have ap­plied the ban specif­i­cally on cows and bulls.” Murlid­har Rao, BJP gen­eral sec­re­tary in charge of sev­eral south­ern states, adds: “This di­rec­tive doesn’t su­per­sede the state laws. The govern­ment has only acted un­der the di­rec­tions of SC. It has also is­sued a clarification that it is open to sug­ges­tions. Clearly, the con­tro­versy is be­ing trig­gered and kept alive by vested in­ter­est groups.”

Elec­tion strate­gist par ex­cel­lence that he is, Shah is aware that cow pol­i­tics will lead to dis­sen­sion in the north­east­ern states, which is why the is­sue is not be­ing played up in the re­gion. Ac­cord­ing to 2014 NSSO data, all north­east­ern states ex­cept Tripura were among the top 10 most fre­quent con­sumers of beef or buff in the coun­try. Meghalaya, Na­ga­land and Mi­zo­ram will go to polls in 2018 and all have a Chris­tian ma­jor­ity pop­u­la­tion.

How­ever, in states such as West Ben­gal, Odisha and Tamil Nadu, Shah is con­fi­dent that cow pol­i­tics will help the party ex­pand its base. In West Ben­gal, though 18.66 per cent peo­ple eat beef, the share from cows and bulls is just 1.68 per cent. “For years, the state has seen mi­nor­ity ap­pease­ment,” says a West Ben­gal BJP leader. “The stop on cat­tle smug­gling and the de­bate over cow slaughter will help us con­sol­i­date Hindu votes.”

This may be why West Ben­gal chief min­is­ter Ma­mata Ban­er­jee took six days to for­mally re­act to the no­ti­fi­ca­tion as she did not want to ap­pear bi­ased to­wards any community. She ques­tioned the tim­ing of the no­ti­fi­ca­tion—a month be­fore Eid—and then asked the po­lice to take stern ac­tion against cat­tle smug­gling. Un­will­ing

to let the BJP hi­jack cow pol­i­tics, she has de­cided to dis­trib­ute cows to poor farm­ers. But a re­port on bor­der se­cu­rity tabled by a par­lia­men­tary stand­ing committee on home af­fairs in the Ra­jya Sabha ex­posed her dou­ble­s­peak. “The committee is par­tic­u­larly an­guished to note that the West Ben­gal state govern­ment has failed to im­ple­ment its own order dated 01.09.2003 that out­laws ex­is­tence of any cat­tle haats within 8 kms of bor­der area,” the re­port states.

In Ker­ala, which has a sig­nif­i­cant beef con­sum­ing pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing Hin­dus, the BJP plans to in­voke Hindu mythol­ogy to lure Hindu vot­ers. Shah made one such at­tempt when he tried to ap­pro­pri­ate Onam as a Hindu national fes­ti­val, of­fer­ing greet­ings for ‘Va­mana Jayanti’, only to have the Malay­alees up in arms. Onam is a week-long fes­ti­val com­mem­o­rat­ing the home­com­ing of mytho­log­i­cal lower-caste king Ma­ha­bali, whose rule was ended by Brah­min boy Va­mana, avatar of Vishnu.

In­ter­est­ingly, op­po­si­tion par­ties are re­luc­tant to de­nounce the BJP’s cow pol­i­tics out­right. Gu­jarat Congress pres­i­dent Bharatsinh Solanki has de­manded national an­i­mal sta­tus for the cow along with a na­tion­wide ban on its slaughter. At the national level, the party dis­tanced it­self from the Ker­ala Youth Congress leader’s act of slaugh­ter­ing a calf in pub­lic and dis­tribut­ing its meat on May 28. “This sin­gu­lar act of stu­pid­ity has helped the BJP garner sym­pa­thy,” says a se­nior Congress leader from the state. “He ac­tu­ally show­cased the threat per­cep­tion to the cow the BJP is so des­per­ately try­ing to man­u­fac­ture.”


BEEF HISTORY A beef-eating protest in Chen­nai af­ter an at­tack on a student who or­gan­ised a beef fes­ti­val at IIT Madras

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