#BeefBan: How Modi government is failing the Northeast
My biggest worry is the lack of respect being shown to those from the region.
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Over the last one year, a narrative has, from time to time, captured the imagination of many people in India's Northeast and outside. Sadly, even after so many years as a democracy, we debate on issues that appear trivial to many onlookers within and outside the region.
The recent comment by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, perceived as the Muslim face of the current government, "that any individual wanting to consume beef should go and settle in Pakistan", is exactly the kind of nonsense the present Modi-led Centre should be trying to avoid, but is unable to.
It is well understood that the government, which swept the Lok Sabha elections, came to power on the mandate of inclusive growth and development for all. However, today many of those who voted them into power for the very reason are wondering if they may have made a serious blunder. While my detractors may state that these statements are an aberration of sorts, I see a certain amount of consistency in these sensationalist comments, which come from the Sangh Parivar.
Growing intolerance in Gandhi's India
Over the last year, Beef Ban/Ghar wapsi/Love Jihad/Ramzade or Haramzade have dogged the headlines and unfortunately I see our country more polarised than ever. I know few ministers and members of Parliament in the ruling dispensation who privately admit that such outrageous statements hugely embarrass them, but they are unable to rein in these elements.
When US President Barack Obama came to Delhi for the Republic Day celebrations, it was seen as a coup by Modi before the Delhi elections. But just before he concluded his visit, Obama sent across a message to the authorities about the growing intolerance in our country - imagine, in the land of Gandhi, we are told by the first African American President in 230 years of their existence as a nation about what the world was beginning to think of us . Of course, Modi's trips abroad and his utterances against India prior to 2014 have somewhat ensured that Obama is not the only person who continues to remind us of our shame.
Beef eating India is no Pakistan
Coming back to the beef issue, this is a subject of some importance in the Northeast. As a Hindu, I have never even allowed beef to be cooked in my premises, leave alone dared to touch the meat. But does that give me the right to think that if anyone does eat beef, they should be considered lesser mortals or in the worse case, be deported to Pakistan? Absolutely not. Certain friends in the far Right give examples of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan where pork is banned, so why can’t India do the same? Well, exactly for the same reason that we are NOT Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.
Personal choice and space have to be respected and while many in the current government think that the country should be run by a uniform civil code, I shudder to think if such a code means imposing one's culture on another. Coming from the Northeast, where language, ethnicity and customs vary every 50 miles, I think imposing such supremacy of one language, dress, religion or eating habits could be a dangerous thing. It is that fear of invasion of privacy and rights that has got most of us worried.
When Kirren Rijiju made the statement condemning Naqvi's comment, as a north easterner, I felt that finally he had taken a firm stand. The present home minister of state has, in the past years, never minced his words and spoken straight from his heart. However, in the past year he was silent on various issues - be it his sudden trip to an insignificant programme in USA just when the Chinese head was coming to India (China contests that Rijiju's home state Arunachal Pradesh is their territory) or when Bezbarooah recomendation took so long to be accepted after the racist attack and murder of Northeast student Nido Tania last year. Even when the BJP's Delhi vision document ahead of the 2015 Assembly polls stated that people from the Northeast were illegal migrants, I hoped he would be more assertive in his response.
So it was a pleasant surprise when he ticked off Naqvi for his beef and Pakistan statement. After all, there is outrage in certain states because of such statements, but what is alarming is the deafening silence of his colleagues in the matter. I think it would have helped if he got some moral and public support from his own party members and colleagues.
Nevertheless, I wonder why and how these silly outbursts by senior functionaries will not damage the BJP in the region in the long term. In 2015, are these the issues going to be the leading narratives? While I agree that this may not be the only issue that determines the future of a political party, such outbursts make us think if all this is a well-scripted strategy in the making.
How can we forget the December 25 controversy when "Good Governance Day" was observed on Christmas (also former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajapyee's birthday). Was it really required to get children to go to school on a Christian holiday?Today, it is also the credibility of our leaders from the Northeast that is at stake - not just from the BJP, but also from Congress and other regional parties. Do we take stands on issues that have regional importance or continue to disregard them to keep a few ideologists in Delhi happy? While the Congress party has been consistent on issues of protecting the faith, privacy and rights of the Northeastern people, the ruling BJP will need to relook at their strategy.
As for the regional players like Rio, PA Sangma or PK Mahanta, they appear to be happy to be in the good books of the central government - but by not being vocal against these issues, they are ceding their space. Perhaps here the regional leaders from the Northeast could learn a few things from Jayalalitha, Mamata Bannerjee, Nitish Kumar or Naveen Patnaik, who, despite doing business from time to time with the national parties, do not bend over backwards and continue to be relevant in their states. Even the BJP has partners like the Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena, who have remained committed to their domestic agenda.
I wonder for how long these regional stalwarts keep silent. The youth of the Northeast are no longer awestruck with past achievements - they now need someone who will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them, not a politician looking to negotiate with those in power at the centre.
While the beef ban may continue to hog the headlines for a while, my biggest worry is not the ban in itself but the lack of respect being shown to those from the Northeast. And though I applaud the home minister for making his personal position clear, I think Prime Minister Modi would be sending a right message to all of us here in the region by taking against such individuals. No I do not want the PM to speak up in Parliament and I definitely do not want another "If-I-have-hurt-sentiments-i-withdraw-my-statement" type of an apology from the minister. What I really want is constructive action against these people, who think that consumption of a certain kind of meat by an Indian citizen is directly linked to deportation to Pakistan.
Mr Modi, please empower the Northeast by telling your ministers to speak about roads, power, infrastructure, tourism and not what we should eat. We elected you for inclusive growth and what we want is an efficient minister in Mukhtar Naqvi - who, at best, is a biased dietician.