The Politics of Beef
In the BJP campaign trail for the 2014 general elections, Modi had thundered in the rally at Nawada in Bihar. He had said, “This country wants a Green Revolution, but the Centre wants a Pink Revolution. Do you know what it means? When animals are slaughtered, the colour of their flesh is pink. The government in Delhi is giving subsidies to those who are carrying out this slaughter.” The BJP had taken the increasing meat exports as an agenda against the UPA and slammed them for the subsidies and tax breaks to slaughterhouses.
“Modi ko matdan, gai ko jeevadan (Vote for Modi, give life to the cow), BJP ka sandesh, bachegi gai, bachega desh (BJP’s message, the cow will be saved, the country will be saved),” these two slogans did the rounds in the SMS circuits. Modi had also promised to build ‘cow hostels’ in cities, and grant ‘cow pensions’ to keep farmers from selling old animals for slaughter. The formation of a ‘cow protection force’ was promised to rescue cows and the icing on the cake was the setting-up of a ‘cow university’ to teach the usefulness of the indigenous cow.
Now the shocker, in the last one year, India has retained its top position as the world’s biggest exporter of meat, having exported 2.4 million tonnes of beef in the financial year 2014-15, which accounts for a whopping 23.3 per cent of world’s beef production. In 2014, India made profits of around $4.8 billion from the beef industry and the total profits surpassed that from exports of Basmati rice for the first time. The data by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry shows that meat production in Gujarat, while under Modi’s leadership, almost doubled. It says that the state produced 22,000 tonnes of meat in 2010-11 in comparison to 10,600 in 2001-02.
The Hindu reported that Gujarat is one of the top 10 states to have the largest number of slaughterhouses. It mentions that over 1,000 animals are slaughtered on an average in a day. Another report by Business Today in April 2015 stated that the BJP government in Gujarat continued giving a grant of Rs 15 crore for the construction of new slaughterhouses and renovation and modernisation of the existing ones.
The murder of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri is not surprising to those who follow the ground-level politics in Uttar Pradesh. For the last few months there had been a gradual build-up, with BJP-ruled states imposing, or rather re-imposing, a ban on cow slaughter. In Jammu and Kashmir, the High Court reiterated an existing law, a Section of the 1932 Ranbir Penal Code, to ensure strict implementation of a colonial-era law banning the sale of beef.
The fact that this concern for cows is not universally shared across the nation makes it a sensitive political issue, since not only Muslim and Christian minorities eat beef, but a sizeable numbers of the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes, who account for 25 per cent of the country’s population, are beef eaters. In the states of Kerala, West Bengal and most of the Northeastern region, where cattle slaughter is legal, beef is widely consumed. Hence, the decision to curtail or ban the meat of the cow is a matter not so much of faith, or economics, but of party politics.
The trigger for the First War of Independence, also called the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, was the issue of rifle cartridges of paper greased with animal fat that had to be bitten by the Sepoys. Like the roaring lion icon of the ‘Make In India’ campaign, the cow too has been used by different political parties since Independence. Those who cry out aloud about imposing the ban should look at the fate of the thousands of stray cows in the streets, cities and roads across India. The marginal farmers who can hardly afford to take care of cattle no longer useful as milch or draught animals, have no alternative other than selling them off to the butchers. They cannot abandon them to die miserably of starvation.
With the dearth of goshalas, encroachment and conversion of gochar land, dependence on mechanised methods of farming, increased hybridisation, corporatising of the milk sector etc., the future of the cow in India is bleak.
The controversy over meat ban may seem recent, but in reality it is quite old. Why Modi should be blamed for the laws that were formulated by many states several years ago, mostly by the Congress regimes. Unfortunately, the opposition, and even the NDA’s allies like the Shiv Sena are politicising the issue for narrow gains. The shriller the cries for a ban of cow slaughter becomes, the more heat and dust will be raised. The fact remains that a blanket ban on beef cannot be accepted on a pan-India basis, however states that have imposed the ban should be given all support to impose the law, both in letter and spirit.