Bone of contention: will the meat ban cleave the BJP-Sena alliance?
- Mira Bhyandar Corporation bans sale of meat during Paryushan Parv
- The aim: apparently to garner Jain votes ahead of next year\'s civic polls
- The Sena says the ban is unacceptable, threatens to leave alliance
- The Congress calls it an attempt to disrupt communal harmony
- Meat traders say the ban will ruin them, make them starve
Maharashtra's ruling allies BJP and Shiv Sena are again at loggerheads. This time it's over the ban on sale of meat during the Jain festival of Paryushan Parv, held at Mira Bhyandar on the outskirts of Mumbai.
The quarrel has escalated to the extent that the Sena has threatened to walk out of the alliance if the ban is not lifted immediately.
This is just the latest in a series of confrontations between the two parties since forming the government less than a year ago.
The issues they have squabbled over earlier include taking outside support of the NCP, replacing sodium vapour lamps along Marine Drive with LED ones, fixing Mumbai's water logging problem, taking 27 villages out of the Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation, and allowing eateries in Mumbai to stay open round the clock.
The last of these is said to be a pet project of Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray's son Aditya.
So, how is the latest fight over the meat ban any different? There is a crucial difference: despite ripping into each other during the earlier disputes, no leader threatened to break the alliance.
Now, the Sena has done just that even as BJP leaders have refrained from making harsh comments, apparently hoping that the storm would blow over soon.
That looks unlikely as opposition parties, smelling an opportunity to derive political mileage, too have pounced on the issue.
But what exactly is this issue and why has it drawn a wedge between the BJP and the Sena?
On the boil
The dispute is over a decade old. In September 2004, the then Congress-NCP government banned the sale of meat on the first and last days of Paryushan Parv. Later, Mahavir Jayanti and Ganesh Chaturthi were added to this list, taking the number of days covered by the ban to four.
No politician opposed the decision seen as it was to be consistent with public sentiment.
So, every year, municipal corporations pass resolutions banning sale of meat on these four days in their respective jurisdictions.
This year though, the resolution passed by the Mira Bhyandar Municipal Corporation, ruled by the BJP, banned sale of meat on eight days of Paryushan Parv.
Mayor Geeta Jain brought the resolution to the General Body Meeting, only to see the Congress and the NCP vote against it. Sena's corporators, however, were divided, and the resolution was narrowly passed, 29 votes to 27.
Pratap Sarnaik: BJP is appeasing Jains for votes, but this is injustice to others. It's unacceptable
But as soon as the resolution was sent to the state government for final approval, Sena aired their discontent.
"This is nothing but a political move by the BJP to garner support. They feel appeasing the Jain community will consolidate their vote bank," said Sena MLA Pratap Sarnaik. "But by doing this, they are doing injustice to other communities. This is not at all acceptable. The resolution must be withdrawn immediately or we will not hesitate to walk out of the alliance."
Sarnaik represents nearly half the area under the Mira Bhyandar Corporation while the rest falls in the assembly constituency of BJP's Narendra Mehta.
"Imposing such restrictions on people who do not follow Paryushan Parv is a draconian decision. We will oppose it tooth and nail. Why should people from other communities be deprived of the food of their choice," Sarnaik said.
Joining into the fight, the Congress alleged the ban was imposed with an eye on next year's municipal elections. "This is an attempt by the BJP to disrupt communal harmony," the party's spokesperson Sachin Savant said.
He also questioned the Sena's sincerity in opposing the ban. "They tried to do this last year as well and the Shiv Sena supported it then. This year, they are opposing it since the BJP initially wanted the ban for 18 days," Savant said, adding that the BJP and Sena's bickering has only served to exposed their "politics of convenience".
NCP spokesman Nawab Malik claimed the resolution was the handiwork of BJP's ideological master, the RSS. "It is clearly an attempt to impose the RSS ideology on the people. Every citizen of the country is free to follow his religion. But no one is allowed to impose their religious views on others. This is a violation of the fundamental rights of people," he said.
No ill intention
The BJP has defended the decision. Mayor Geeta Jain said, "We have been tabling the resolution for the last many years. Since we did not have majority, it would always get struck down. But this time, the situation is different. With our majority, we could get it approved."
She claimed the proposal for the eight-day ban was moved not by the BJP, but by NCP corporators. "They moved the proposal. I fail to understand why they did not vote in favour of it," Jain said.
'Jains are gold & silver traders. If they want us to shut shop for 8 days, will they do the same?'
As for the Sena, Jain claimed they had supported the same resolution when it was brought last year, but are opposing it now "for reasons best known to them".
While the political parties are busy scoring political brownie points, not many seem bothered about those most likely to be affected by the ban.
"The Mira Bhyandar Municipal Corporation's decision will spell doom for thousands of poor people who are dependent on this business. All those dependent on this business are daily wagers and losing wages for eight days will make them starve," said Mohd Ali Qureshi, president of the Bombay Beef Traders Association.
The daily turnover of the meat business in Mira Road alone is around Rs 18 lakh a day, Qureshi said.
"The majority of the Jains of Mira Bhyandar are rich gold and silver traders. If they want us to close shops for eight days, will they also keep their shops shut for as many days?"