Beef is back in the political business in Uttar Pradesh and returns to the national stage as well. The police report that the sample of meat collected from Bisada village in Dadri on the day Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched belonged to "cow or its progeny" provided an opportunity to the Sangh Parivar to justify the horrific incident in September 2015. And they have seized it!
Union minister Sanjiv Balyan came up with an ingenuous argument last week while speaking at the Jan Darbar held in his home in a Muzaffarnagar village.
|This is just a ploy to regain lost political support in the state.
He told the people who had gathered for the address that he holds, without fail, every week, that Mohammed Akhlaq "couldn't have eaten the full cow all alone. The meat would have gone to 20 families there. It's time to track them down and ensure justice is done to the other side."
Forty eight hours after Balyan's provocative utterance, a meeting of the panchayat of Bisada village was convened. The ultimatum served by leaders of the village, ably fronted by the local BJP leader, Sanjay Rana, that they will wait for just 20 days for the district administration to meet their demands.
These demands are two-pronged: Firstly, that cases be lodged against Akhlaq's family for partaking in consuming the "beef" while initiating steps to identify other Muslim families who may have also consumed the "objectionable" meat. Secondly, the villagers are demanding the release of 18 Hindus arrested after the lynching.
The pointed question being posed by the BJP - that it is getting the people of Bisada to repeat - is simple and based on the logic that if the contentious meat sample was found to be beef, then it must have been slaughtered in the village.
Who did it? Who apart from Akhlaq's family stored it in their houses? If the government took action against Hindus for lynching Akhlaq, should not the police investigate the previous crime that led to the second one?
Prima facie, if the report of the Mathura lab is considered authentic, then the sample of meat found at the place where Akhlaq was lynched, was illegal merchandise.
The report defines the sample as belonging to "cow or its progeny" exactly the same way that the UP Cow Slaughter (Prevention) Act, 1955, phrases what is illegal in the state.
Cow slaughter is banned in Uttar Pradesh since 1955 when the first Congress regime after Independence, led by the party's stalwart Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, enacted the legislation.
The law, however, permitted the slaughter of old and dry cows after prior permission from the Animal Husbandry department. But in 2002, when Rajnath Singh was chief minister at the head of a BJP government in the state, an amendment was made to the Act.
This amendment imposed a blanket ban on cow slaughter.
Previously, the BJP government in 1991-92, headed by Kalyan Singh, attempted to introduce similar amendments for imposing a ban on cow slaughter, but failed. The law makes it illegal to store or eat beef, but peculiarly it can be imported in sealed containers, to be served to foreigners.
Atithi Devo Bhava!
The Sangh Parivar clearly has the legal backing to create a clamour and will once again attempt to polarise the state. This, however, may be challenged by Akhlaq's family for several reasons.
The BJP's objective is to intensify the demand for the release of Hindus, institution of cases against Akhlaq’s family and an investigation into the involvement of other Muslim families. But this is just a ploy to regain lost political support in the state. The BJP has embarked on this strategy and specifically Balyan – the "hero" of 2014 - has taken the lead because during the Lok Sabha campaign, communal riots in Muzaffarnagar set off a wave in favour of the BJP.
The sense among the BJP leaders in western UP is that if a wave is triggered in the region, it carries to other parts of the state. They cite the instances in 1991 and 2014, both occasions when the BJP secured a mandate.
With elections due in the first quarter of 2017, the BJP knows that polarisation is the last hope for the party. This alone will enable it to deflect farmers' anger and growing antagonism towards the BJP at the failure of the Modi sarkar to bridge the gap between promises and delivery.
This also explains why the BJP has been training its guns on the Samajwadi Party and not the Bahujan Samaj Party. Ever since the BJP lost power in the state in March 2002, BSP and SP have alternately been in power. BSP secured a decisive majority in 2007 and the SP's turn came in 2012.
There is an appreciable anti-incumbency sentiment building up against Akhilesh Yadav's government and the events in Mathura will only contribute to its further rise. By claiming that its main rival is the SP, the BJP is attempting to channelise the sentiment in its favour.
The BJP expects its aggressive stance against Muslims in Bisada will enable it to harness the Hindu vote. The BJP's belief is that Hindu consolidation is only possible in the reverse.
This means that if Muslims unite irrespective of party loyalty and attempt to make their electoral choice on a constituency-to-constituency basis, the BJP will be able to forge a Hindu consolidation. Senior BJP leaders in off-the-record conversations contend that the BJP "stands to lose if Muslims unite behind BSP or SP (a single party), but we will gain if they vote tactically".
The BJP knows that if it has to win UP, the cow must be milked. Since winning UP will be vital to Modi's strategy in 2019, we can expect the rumblings to continue. The spotlight, like 2014, shall remain on western UP.