For nearly 15 years, Bernard Marak led a fight against the Indian Union as the elusive chairman of an insurgent outfit demanding a separate homeland. He claims was “a contented man” while operating as a militant. However, two-and-a-half years after signing an agreement with the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]-led government and disbanding his outfit, Mr. Marak is “confused and somewhat saddened.” The reason, he says, is a notification.
The problem started with the May 23 notification of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change which says that the cattle buyer “shall…not sell the animal for purpose of slaughter.” The provision has confused the 41-year-old software engineer, also a custodian of indigenous Garo people’s land. He joined the BJP after bidding a farewell to arms.
“What is the notification expected to mean,” asks the former district president of the BJP in Tura, who resigned after the notification.
“To be precise, I resigned after an altercation with a national level BJP leader, who said that there are 11,000 members of which 10,000 does not consume beef. I was asked to respect their rights,” Mr. Marak said. “But what about the choice of lakhs of Garos of Meghalaya, who consume beef, I asked. To which, I was suggested to start my own party.” Mr. Marak’s desertion was followed by a series of resignations from the BJP – many from his cadres in the outlawed A’chik National Volunteer Council-Breakaway [ANVC-B].
Bachu Marak, North Garo Hills district president for BJP and too, left BJP. The incident has saddened Mr. Bernard Marak as BJP brought hundreds of militants back to civilian life. Congress had refused to talk to the militants since ANVC was proscribed in 2000.
“But BJP did speak to us within six months of coming to power and by December 2014 we dissolved both ANVC and ANVC-B; about 1000 of us laid down arms and eventually joined the BJP and we are grateful,” Mr. Marak said.
Following the ANVC surrender, BJP managed to instill confidence among the Garos, who decide the fate of 24 out of 60 Assembly seats in Meghalaya in the Garo Hills division. “We thought it is not a Hindu party, but like any other political party and so we joined it,” said Mr. Bachu Marak, a businessman. The friendliness of Garos helped BJP and it bagged a seat in 2015 in 30-member Garo Hills Autonomous District Council and the Maraks started to build the party from the scratch. However, the disillusionment of the former militants may affect the BJP in the Assembly election of 2018, feels Mr. Bachu Marak
“And the ban on cow slaughter is responsible,” said Mr. Bachu Marak, who left the BJP within a week of Mr. Bernerd Marak’s resignation.
He was inducted in BJP for his skills in organising programmes, and he lost his job for the same set of skills. “I organised a beer and beef festival and they warned me,” he said. Like Mr. Bernerd, he also denied being “sacked” and mailed his resignation letter in which he claims that he is resigning from the party “for dishonouring” his “culture and traditional practices.” Both the Maraks said that beef is “an essential part of a Christian and Garo culture” and a ban on slaughter is “an infringement” on the cultural rights of the indigenous people.
Mr. Marak claims that following their resignation “many thousands” of supporters left the BJP in 16 of 24 Assembly constituencies in the Garo Hills where the Maraks and their friends are active, which would “hurt BJP.” Independent sources claim as many as 5000 BJP supporters have left the party following the ban on slaughter, which, however, could not be implemented. Congress-led Meghalaya Assembly rejected the ban on Monday.
BJP’s district president Shibun Lyngdoh, however, said that no one other then two Maraks and one youth member have left the party. “So it would in no way affect party’s poll prospects in 2018,” he said on phone from Delhi. Moreover he accused the former presidents for their fate. “They have not formed the internal party committees and was about to be removed, they were aware,” he said.
“They were also keen to avail party tickets which they felt were not coming their way so they cut an excuse in the name of beef ban,” said Mr. Lyngdoh. He said the new entrants in the party also made the “old members” like the Maraks “feel insecure.” The Maraks denied the allegations and stuck to their version and even issued a warning. “If BJP keeps trying to change the cultural practices, it would only encourage militancy in the North East,” Mr. Bernerd Marak said.