The ban on the sale of meat in Mumbai to coincide with Paryushan Parva, the Jain period of fasting, is snowballing into a major political row pitting the BJP against all the other parties, including its ally the Shiv Sena. In fact, the Sena was the most vocal on Wednesday, calling the ban religious terrorism and vowing to ensure it is not imposed.
The ban is imposed every year, a point the BJP was keen to point out, but this year the trouble started over the duration. The Mira-Bhayander Municipal Corporation headed by the BJP was the first to impose an eight-day ban. The BJP then demanded an eight-day ban in Mumbai to cover the entire fasting period. The other parties in the BMC opposed it, but the Municipal Commissioner, Ajoy Mehta, agreed to a four-day ban when pressed by BJP MLAs.
On Wednesday, the Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, standing next to the BJP leader and education minister Vinod Tawde, said his party would ensure that there was no eight-day ban. He did not, however, comment on the four-day ban announced by the Sena-ruled BMC. Later in the day, the Sena’s Trushna Vishwasrao, who is leader of the house in the BMC, said, "We have demanded withdrawal of the circular on meat ban. We do not support it. We will follow it up with the authorities at the BMC level."
Wednesday’s edition of the Sena mouthpiece Saamna slammed the meat ban calling it religious terrorism. “Shouldn’t we eat mutton because you don’t? We won’t tolerate the bullying,” said the Saamna edited by Thackeray.
The issue has given the Shiv Sena and opposition parties an opportunity to pit the BJP against the majority of the state’s population, which is non-vegetarian. Already there is anger among Maharashtrians in Mumbai that they are often not allowed to buy apartments in housing societies where Gujarati-speaking vegetarians reside. The vegetarians versus non-vegetarians row has the potential to damage the BJP ahead of the civic elections in 2017. Little wonder, the Sena, which has much at stake in the civic elections in Kalyan-Dombivli and Mumbai, has latched on to the issue to target the BJP.
Realising the danger, the BJP went into control damage mode. The Mira-Bhayander civic body decided to reduce the ban to two days. The party ministers also pointed out how the decision to ban meat for four days in Mumbai was first taken during the tenure of the Congress-NCP in 2004. On Tuesday, senior BJP leader and housing minister Prakash Mehta had insisted that the Shiv Sena-BJP ruled BMC should impose an eight-day ban on meat, to respect the feelings of the Jain community, considered an important vote bank given its economic clout.
But expect the protests to continue. Shiv Sena leader and chief of the state’s muslim butchers association Haji Arafat Sheikh said butchers would take out a morcha and tie livestock outside the homes of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and revenue minister Eknath Khadse if the ban was not revoked.
The NCP’s Mumbai chief Sachin Ahir and party workers protested by ‘handing over’ meat packets to BJP corporator and deputy mayor Alka Kerkar on Wednesday. The MNS has threatened to defy the ban by distributing non-veg dishes in the city during Paryushan.
Meanwhile, retired Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju, whose judgment supporting a ban on sale of meat in Ahmedabad during Paryushan has been quoted by the Jain community to support their demand of a ban, said his ruling didn’t support a blanket ban across the country. “Precedents are not to be applied mechanically…even one difference on facts may make the legal position different. So, my judgment may not be applicable to Mira-Bhayander where the ban never existed earlier.”
As things stand, the Mumbai civic body has banned sale of meat in the city on September 10, 13, 17 and 18. During this period, the abattoirs, meat and poultry shops will remained closed. However, restaurants will be permitted to sell non-vegetarian dishes. There is no ban on the sale of seafood and eggs.