Northeast will end up exposing Modi government's beef politics

Things looked seemingly smooth for the party in the region until the cow, as usual, strayed into the grazing field.

 |  6-minute read |   02-06-2017
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The BJP's adventure tour of the Northeast seems to be falling off a dangerous cliff erected upon its own hypocritical edifice of "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas".

A lot has been written and talked about the BJP's spectacular foray into the region. How the Modi magic seemingly swept the entire region — first winning the Assembly elections in Assam in 2016, a "back-door entry" into Arunachal Pradesh, and forming a government in alliance with smaller parties in Manipur in 2017.

The party is now desperately looking to repeat the feats in the Christian-dominated Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland besides the Hindu-dominated Tripura, all of which will go to the polls in 2018.

The BJP stunned everyone as it managed to capture political power in a region which, till 2016, was unexposed to Hindutva politics and what lies at the heart of it — the cow.

Whether it was because of the BJP's growing influence or their utter disillusionment with the Congress, the people of the region started to respond to the saffron party's overtures, and overwhelmingly so.

This was reflected in the BJP's electoral gains. Of course, the Sangh Parivar has had been at work in the region (mainly in Assam) for almost more than two decades to make that possible.

The same set of leaders, led by a Congress turncoat who made Assam possible for the BJP, have been in the forefront of the saffron party's reach into the rest of the states. In fact, the growing body of the BJP in the NE states mostly comprises former Congress leaders, regional underlings and former militants.

northeast_060217060938.jpgDespite border skirmishes among the states, people from the region still identify with the idea of Northeast as one region.

Things looked seemingly smooth for the party in the region until the cow, as usual, strayed into the grazing field.

Notwithstanding the political equations, the fear of the beef ban has kept the ordinary citizen and the politicians in the region worried from time to time ever since BJP's "incursion". The larger cause of trepidation being the domination of Hindu politics and imposition of a culture that is framed within a Hindutva-defined national identity.

While the Sangh-propelled Hindutva contraption found it easy to wheel into the region, raiding into people's refrigerators sniffing for cow/cattle or any other meat will prove difficult for it. And it's not because of religion. Religion, in fact, entered much later into the Northeast. Animism was the dominant "religion" followed in the region. Even now, all those who identify themselves as indigenous people of the Northeast share a unique cultural and traditional affinity (which includes food habits) despite following different religions — Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam.

This is one more reason why, despite border skirmishes among the states, people from the region still identify with the idea of Northeast as one region.

This has, of course, put the BJP in a precarious position. So, when the central government sent out a controversial notification banning the sale of cattle for slaughter at animal markets, the BJP in the Northeast started facing resistance despite assurances of not "imposing beef ban in Northeast because it has a different culture".

While the ban has faced much more vocal opposition from states outside the Northeast — West Bengal, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu — what is perhaps most ironical is the "mutiny" within the BJP's Meghalaya unit.

A few BJP members in Meghalaya announced a beef party to celebrate three years of the Modi government. The unique celebration suggestion was apparently made “to clear doubts of the local people that BJP was trying to impose a ban on consumption of beef”. According to the BJP's West Garo Hills district president, Bernard N Marak, who quit the party on June 1, BJP leaders were not respecting the tradition and culture of the indigenous people.

A few days back, Marak, the former chief of the armed group Achik National Volunteer Council, had announced that the saffron party would bring down prices of beef in Meghalaya if it comes to power after the 2018 Assembly polls.

Marak is not alone. He has the support of a few more BJP members who feel they were not permitted to hold the beef festival even though the BJP had announced that there would be no restriction on beef consumption in the state.

NPP chief Conrad Sangma, an ally of BJP, too has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi arguing against the new regulations. He said it will hurt the socio-cultural and economic milieu of millions.

The BJP has been allaying people's fear that they will be spared the food-policing (thereby the lynching by gau rakshaks) unlike in the rest of India because the "reality in Northeast is very different"(where there is a majority Christian population).

But that does not seem to be cutting much ice, especially after people have already been attacked and killed for allegedly stealing cow in Assam.

According to Marak, Nalin Kohli, BJP's Meghalaya in-charge , bluntly refused them the permission for beef party.

"I asked why. We are not Hindus, we are Christians and tribals. All tribes in Meghalaya eat beef. Their attempt is to impose Hindu culture on us,” he was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.

Marak also claims that the party's district units had worked hard to convince people that “BJP is not a communal party but stands for progress and development’’. “But when they issue notifications like this and refuse to let us celebrate according to our traditions and culture, they are acting on communal lines.’’

Kohli, in his defence, said the party was already thinking of removing Marak from his party post for “sabotage against the BJP’s likely candidates for the Assembly polls". That Marak was using the beef issue for political mileage. “We are here to win the elections, not give tickets in charity. Beef is not an issue in Meghalaya. There is no beef ban,” he was quoted as saying in the same news report.

Notwithstanding the politics within the party, the BJP now must make its stand clear on the issue of beef.

Is the party going to impose a beef ban in the Northeast?

If not, why is a beef party in Meghalaya still not palatable to BJP leaders?

Also, if people in the Northeast can eat beef, why can't those in other parts of India (did anyone say political inclusiveness)?  

If it's a question of sentiments, it definitely can't be one-sided.

The BJP must end its pretence of secular, inclusive agenda if it wants to keep the cow at the centre of its politics.

Also read: Beef politics is taking a bite out of Meghalaya BJP

Writer

Sanghamitra Baruah Sanghamitra Baruah

Works at DailyO.

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