The BJP’s Hindi heartland leaders may be gunning for a nationwide cow slaughter ban but in poll-bound West Bengal and Kerala, the party is fighting to shed its hardline image and has called beef consumption a question of an individual’s rights.
Both states have little popular support for an overarching ban and the BJP has toned down its agenda to suit the public palate in regions where it has historically done poorly in elections.
In Bengal, where a rampaging Trinamool Congress has decimated the party in recent municipal polls, BJP leaders say they can’t interfere with people’s right to choice.
“There is no need to hit the streets holding flag for a beef ban. It is not an issue here. The issue is development, where even Muslims are deprived under Mamata Banerjee,” Rahul Sinha, state BJP president, told HT.
Beef is freely available across the state where Muslims make up a third of the population and government estimates point to 98,000kg of cow meat consumed daily in Kolkata alone.
Chief minister Banerjee has repeatedly tweeted against the ban, and BJP leaders fear the Left and Trinamool will polarise communities ahead of the 2016 state polls.
“We are not against Muslims. We are informing people about the benefits of cow preservation. Even a section of Muslims are with us,” said Subrata Gupta, convener of the BJP’s cow development cell. The party is asking people to set up cow sheds and organizing volunteer teams to thwart smuggling.
The beef ban has put the BJP on the back foot in Kerala too, where 60% of the population consumes the red meat, known as the poor man’s food.
“In Kerala we never favored a ban on beef. The party won’t interfere with what people eat or what they wear. Our opponents are making a non-issue an issue to paint us in bad light,” said party state president V Muraleedharan.
In addition to Muslims and Christians, a majority of Hindus also relish beef – forcing the party to condemn fringe elements during the recent Kerala House beef row in Delhi.
The raging debate over beef has made it a symbol of resistance and many youth organisations are holding beef parties across the state. The party fears this will dent its prospects in the upcoming local body polls.
“Our opponents are flaunting it vigorously saying PM Modi wants to change even the menu of the people. We are finding difficult to convince them,” said a BJP district functionary.