The BJP led NDA government at the Centre is currently celebrating three years of its coming to power. The Modi government believes it has a lot to celebrate about and has drawn up an extensive countrywide programme, primarily funded by Central PSUs as we now know, to trumpet them around for the people to know. But ironically, it has chosen not to include what has been its biggest contribution in these three years to its list of achievements: bringing the humble cow from the cowshed to the centre of country’s political discourse!
The cow must be wondering what all the fuss is about. At one place, people are ready to kill a man for eating – or suspected to be eating – or trading in beef. Elsewhere, another set of people are ready to kill a cow bang in the middle of road in broad daylight to prove a point. Beef eating people across the country – and many who are not beef eaters themselves but support others’ right to eat beef – see red at a crucial notification under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Acts, 1960 that would make trading in cattle for beef extremely difficult. At the opposite end, there are those who find the very idea of eating beef abhorring and pounce on those who have had the cheek to organize ‘beef festivals’. In three years flat, the nation has been divided between beef eaters and beef haters, who lived with each other without a problem for centuries, ready to kill – or get killed – each other on the issue. Certainly no mean achievement this!
There is now little doubt that the Modi government is determined to squeeze beef out of the market through a mixture of legislative action and tacit support to coercion on the ground by the army of gau rakshaks the sangh parivaar has raised all these years. Given the political stakes in beef eating south and northeast, it has clearly decided to stop short of enforcing a ban on cow slaughter across the country – at least for the time being. Trapped between its desire to keep its core constituency happy and its determination to foray into hitherto uncharted territory, the BJP is now in the unenviable position of having to run with the hare and hunt with the hound. The party that makes a vociferous case against cow slaughter in the north and west has no choice but to assure people in the northeast and parts of south that there would be no ban on beef. [It was amusing to find the BJP candidate for a recent by-poll in Tamil Nadu promising to make beef cheaper in his area, if elected!]
It is also abundantly clear now that ‘Sabka saath, Sabka Vikash’ was nothing more than a catchy slogan to fool the electorate into voting for the BJP. If the party had any intention of living up to its slogan, it would not have tried to ride roughshod over millions of Indians – and not just Muslims – who eat beef. In doing this, the saffron party is presumably trying to consolidate the Hindu vote, conveniently forgetting that there is nothing un-Hindu about beef eating. The sangh would like to convince us that beef eating is a post-Mughal phenomenon. But the fact that beef eating was prevalent in sections of Hindu society for centuries before the Mughals came has been extensively documented by historians. One does not even need to go to history to find that there is a sizeable population of beef eating Hindus in the country. They are there all around us – and not all of them Dalits. In trying to force what it considers the Hindu way of life down the throats of people, the BJP is negating the wonderful diversity of the Hindu society.
In any case, why does it have to be about Hindus alone in a country that is a secular, democratic republic? The freedom to eat what one likes is part of the right to life that the Constitution guarantees every citizen of the country. If the BJP wants to impose its own version of Hinduism on the country without formally making it a Hindu nation, it has embarked on a dangerous course that has the potential to tear the social fabric asunder.
[A Note to the Readers: It is never easy to say good bye, especially when you are parting with someone dear. I, therefore, feel a lump in my throat as I break the news that this would be the swan song for ‘Scandeep’. It has been a rollicking and immensely satisfying nine-month long journey for me and I have enjoyed every moment of it. I am overwhelmed by the love and affection that you – the Reader – have showered on the column all these months. I wish it continued till eternity. But as they say ‘All good things come to an end someday’. Here is hoping to connect with all of you on some other platform some other time in future. A Big Thank You to All of You!]