Top BJP leaders from the northeast, including sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal, slammed union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s remark that those who want to eat beef “can go to Pakistan”, even as an audio recording emerged of union minister Kiren Rijiju criticising the statement.
Advising open-mindedness on the subject of eating beef, Sonowal, who hails from Assam, told HT, “Our forefathers taught us the wisdom of respecting all customs, cultures and traditions. This is what builds unity amid diversity and that is what we must strive to sustain. Beef curbs in the northeast will sow seeds of dissonance as it is a common staple among many communities.”
An audio recording of Rijiju commenting on beef eating practices was posted on the website of the Indian Express after a controversy swirled over the minister claiming he was “misquoted” about criticising Naqvi’s statement.
Rijiju could be heard saying in the recording, “I eat beef. I am from Arunachal Pradesh. Can somebody stop me? So let us not be touchy about somebody’s practices.”
In Meghalaya, state BJP unit president Khlur Singh Lyngdoh criticised Naqvi's remarks. “Naqvi’s statement is not acceptable. I don’t know why he is saying such things,” he said. "Sometime back, our party president Amit Shah during his Meghalaya visit made it clear that it is the state’s prerogative to decide what is to be allowed to be eaten.”
When BJP chief Shah visited Meghalaya last month to highlight alleged corruption by the ruling Congress in the state, he was greeted with a “beef party” by a pressure group.
Nagaland BJP chief Chuba Ao said Naqvi may have made the statement in his personal capacity and this may not be the party's stand.
“In the northeast, beef has nothing to do with religion. It is a very cheap source of protein for energy for the largely tribal populace,” he said.
“It is a very sensitive issue in Mizoram. Earlier we yielded substantial political ground to opposition parties because of this very issue when rumours spread that BJP will ban beef,” Mizoram’s BJP president Lalhuna said.
“But it is sad that a senior minister like Naqvi is making such a statement. Beef prohibition is simply not possible in the northeast.”
“No one can dictate to someone what to eat and what not to eat,” Manipur BJP’s general secretary M Asnikumar Singh said. “Naqvi may have stated his own personal feeling. Tribals across the Northeast have their own traditions and customs related to what they eat. No one should interfere there.”
After Rijiju's comments were widely covered by the media, he sought to play down the issue and said on Wednesday: “India is a secular country and food habits cannot be stopped but Hindu faiths and sentiments must be respected in Hindu majority states in the same way as the other communities have rights in their own dominant states.”
Naqvi, the minister of state for minority affairs, had defended the ban last week.
“It is not about loss or profit... it is an issue of faith and belief. It is a sensitive issue for Hindus. Those who can’t do without beef can go to Pakistan or Arab countries or any other part of world where it is available,” he said at a conclave organised by a private TV
Enforcement of the ban in several states sparked protests from thousands of butchers and vendors, with their livelihood interrupted while the leather industry too was hit hard.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi attacked the UPA government’s “pink revolution” — the export of cattle meat — during last year’s general election, his administration has not changed its meat export policy.
India is the world’s second-largest beef exporter after Brazil, but the BJP and its affiliates have been pushing for a nationwide ban on cow slaughter, as the animal is considered holy by many Hindus.
Maharashtra extended a ban on the slaughter of cows to bulls and bullocks in March while Haryana made cow slaughter and beef sale non-bailable offences soon after. Jharkhand and Rajasthan are considering similar legislation. All these states have BJP-led governments.