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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

Beef politics: Mamata, Pinarayi Vijayan up ante against cattle trade rules

Opposition parties from across the country have upped the ante against the Centre’s ban on sale of cattle for slaughter at animal markets.

india Updated: Jul 19, 2017 18:05 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji and Ramesh Babu
Saubhadra Chatterji and Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Thiruvananthapuram
Youth Congress activists slaughtered a cattle at the heart of Kannur town in Kerala on Sunday evening and cooked the meat in full view during a ‘Beef Fest’.
Youth Congress activists slaughtered a cattle at the heart of Kannur town in Kerala on Sunday evening and cooked the meat in full view during a ‘Beef Fest’. (HT Photo)

Beef stirred the political pot on Monday, after Congress activists in Kerala killed a cow in a public square to defy the central government’s new curbs on the sale and purchase of the animal.

The protests were staged after the Union environment ministry notified last week that no cattle can be sold or bought in animal markets for slaughter.

The decision brought the Opposition and the ruling BJP into conflict.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the CPM, which rules Kerala, spoke in a rare voice of unity between the two arch rivals against the Narendra Modi government.

“We won’t accept the Centre’s decision … it is unconstitutional,” Banerjee said, dubbing the ban as an attempt to “encroach into state power”.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan urged his counterparts to raise their voice against the restrictions on cattle trade, saying the Centre’s “anti-federal, anti-democratic and anti-secular move” is an attempt to usurp power from the state governments.

In a letter to the chief ministers, he said the ban would affect the livelihood of millions of people, especially those in the farming sector.

Vijayan said he didn’t need a “lesson in food habits from New Delhi or Nagpur”, referring to the RSS headquarters in Maharashtra.

The CPM will organise “evening dharnas” in 2,000 places across in Kerala on June 2. The date coincides with BJP chief Amit Shah’s three-day tour to the southern state, where the party is trying to make inroads.

Focus on cows, considered sacred by Hindus, and beef has increased since the BJP won power in 2014. The party’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has long pushed for a nationwide ban on cattle slaughter and trade.

But a beef ban was viewed as an attempt to limit people’s freedom to choose what they eat.

Besides, the curbs on cattle trade have the potential to alienate Muslims who dominate the Rs 100,000-crore meat business in India. Hindu hardliners and cow vigilante groups have been increasingly asserting themselves since 2014.

Muslims are considered a key support base of Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, the CPM and Congress. Banerjee wondered why the trade curbs were announced on May 23, just before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The BJP attacked the Congress after functionaries of the opposition party’s youth wing killed a cow in Kannur and distributed the meat to people on Saturday.

“This is shameful and in many ways provocative. Political opposition happens but it is unfortunate that such an act has been committed, that too by Youth Congress workers,” Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

The Congress suspended three functionaries associated with the slaughter and party vice president Rahul Gandhi called the incident barbaric, saying his party won’t tolerate such acts.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said such action by party workers was “completely unacceptable” and “alien to civil society, our culture and founding principles”.

The party was in damage-control mode after Kerala BJP president Kummanam Rajasekharan posted the video of the incident on Twitter, calling it “cruelty at its peak”. The video triggered national outrage.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who had clamped down on illegal slaughterhouses and cattle smuggling soon after coming to power this April, questioned the opposition parties’ silence on the incident.

The 44-year-old priest-politician, an active promoter of cow conservation, asked: “Why are the people who staged vociferous protests over the incidents in DU and JNU silent on the issue?”

His target was political leaders who supported students involved in alleged anti-national functions in the two premier universities in the national capital.

Amid the party’s condemnation of the Kerala incident, a senior BJP leader of the Garo Hills in Meghalaya allayed fears over a beef ban in his state, which goes to the polls next year.

“In Meghalaya, most of the BJP leaders eat beef. The question of banning beef does not arise in a state like Meghalaya,” Bernard N Marak said and promised to bring down beef prices if voted to power.

Most of the protests on Monday over the cattle trade rules were recorded in Kerala and neighbouring Tamil Nadu, where cow slaughter is not banned.

In IIT Madras, about 80 students organised a beef festival on the campus of the country’s premier engineering institute. “It is our democratic right to choose our food,” said Abhinav Surya, a final-year student.

Tamil Nadu’s main opposition DMK has planned a protest on May 31. DMK working president MK Stalin will lead the protest in Chennai, the party said, adding “the fundamental right to choice of food granted by the Constitution has been snatched away”.

(with inputs from Kumar Uttam and agencies)