Last year, when the President gave his assent to the long-pending bill banning the slaughter of bulls and bullocks and consumption of their meat in Maharashtra, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had tweeted triumphantly, “Our dream of ban on cow slaughter becomes reality now.”
That triumph on Friday turned into embarrassment for the BJP as the Bombay high court struck down two key provisions of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976 and thus decriminalised the storage and consumption of beef from outside the state.
The order has left the BJP embarrassed as it had sought to make the beef ban a political issue, with its government in Haryana also adopting a similar law. A BJP leader in Maharashtra said, “With this provision being struck down, the perception battle has been lost.”
While opposition parties were quick to criticise the government, it was the Shiv Sena’s reaction that was most intriguing. “We have always been in favour of a ban on cow slaughter but the slaughter of bulls and bullocks is a deeply economic issue which should have been studied better. This (the ruling) will mean traders from outside the state will benefit since they can export meat to Maharashtra, but traders in Maharashtra will be hurt,” said Shiv Sena spokesperson Manisha Kayande.
He added, “Now, beef can’t be produced here but it can be consumed, which is contradictory. In times of drought, when farmers were reeling anyway, a ban on slaughter (of bulls and bullocks) hurts them immensely and burdens him with the cattle’s upkeep.”
The Congress, though cautious in its reaction, called the order a setback for the BJP’s “divisive agenda”. State spokesperson Sachin Sawant said, “The way the act was executed made it clear that it was intended to only give the BJP political benefits and advance their divisive agenda. Anti-social mischief-makers won’t be able to do a repeat of Dadri-like incidents.”
The NCP’s Nawab Malik said, “Right-wing activists who were harassing people in the name of the ban won’t be able to do that now.”
The BJP, however, put up a brave front. Madhav Bhandari, the party’s chief spokesperson for Maharashtra, said, “The biggest victory for us is that the court upheld the legislation and termed it constitutional. That is the real victory for the government. We will go to the Supreme court to appeal against the striking down of two provisions,” he said.