Leaving beef bans to the States

March 17, 2015 01:05 am | Updated December 03, 2021 05:06 pm IST

Even as some of its State units — within and outside government — have shown a zeal in seeking to toughen laws on cow slaughter, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has nationally been more guarded about the issue. The BJP government in Haryana >announced that it is instituting a law that provides for a 10-year prison sentence for those caught slaughtering cattle. In doing so, it has taken its cue from its counterpart in Maharashtra which >extended the ban on cow slaughter to all cattle, even as two other BJP-ruled States, Jharkhand and Rajasthan, are considering similar legislation. Reports also suggest that in West Bengal — a State that permits cow slaughter with a “fit for slaughter” certificate — the BJP State unit is seeking to deploy vigilante groups to prevent the ferrying of cows to Bangladesh for slaughter. This activist zeal by the BJP in the States contrasts with the party’s national position. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attacked the “pink revolution” — the export of cattle meat — during last year’s general election, his government has not changed its meat export policy since then. That policy prohibits the export of the meat of cows, bulls, calves, any milching bovine or calves less than four months old. Only the meat of non-milching buffaloes, along with that of goats, is allowed to be exported.

Even though most States, except Kerala and parts of the northeast, have laws of varying degree banning cow slaughter, it is a sensitive subject. Beef and buffalo meat are sources of cheap protein not just among sections of the minorities, but also for poor Hindus. The BJP has also not forgotten a speech made in the Lok Sabha by the late G.G. Swell, an MP from Meghalaya, in 1996 during the party’s 13-day tenure in government. On that occasion, Swell spoke about the intolerance of the BJP and its inability to accept that in parts of India, including large swathes in the northeast, beef is a cultural, culinary preference. More recently, in Kerala, leaders belonging to the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have described the efforts by BJP-ruled States as a “sign of increasing encroachment of personal liberty and democratic freedom”. While Central ministers have ruled out a Central law as livestock is a State subject, even hardline Hindutva-oriented BJP MPs like Yogi Adityanath say that it is important to let the government focus on development for some more time. The national executive of the BJP has remained silent on the issue since its government came to power. Clearly, the party will calibrate its position on the issue in the long run, not letting it distract attention from its reforms agenda.

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