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How beef politics may put a halt to the BJP juggernaut in the the North East

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 3 June 2017, 10:52 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

Bernard Marak's resignation has come as a warning signal for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the North East.

The president of the district unit of BJP in West Garo Hills reportedly resigned in protest against the Centre's new law banning sale of cattle for slaughter in markets. 

His resignation indicates that there is unrest within BJP over an agenda that the party is pushing across the country. 

Marak told reporters he was quitting because he was “a Christian and Garo first" and that the BJP was “hurting the sentiments here on the beef issue”. He also added that tribal society had its own laws and the BJP was “trying to push Hindutva". 

Project cow

The development highlights what is wrong with the BJP's project cow. It is in line with the Sangh Parivar's much misunderstood view of the Indian society as a single homogenous unit. In pushing for a nationwide halt to beef-eating, the Parivar has tried to ignore the fact that the issue holds no appeal beyond what is traditionally called the cow-belt. 

If anything, it enrages people in the southern and the north-eastern states and forces them to take political positions far away from the BJP. Just a day after Marak's resignation, Arunachal Pradesh Pema Khandu was also reported saying he eats beef and there was nothing wrong with it. Khandu had defected to the BJP in December 2016. 

“Not just Arunachal, the northeast as a whole is tribal dominated who are mostly non-vegetarian,” he said, adding that the Narendra Modi-government was “a very sensitive government” and that it will be “consulting all the respective state governments and have a re-look into this thing (the cattle trade ban).” 

A year ago, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, who is also from Arunachal Pradesh, had asserted that he ate beef and dared votaries of the beef-ban to stop him from eating it.

However, Rijju, for all his daring, has done nothing to advocate withdrawal of the controversial notification. Neither has he, in his capacity as home minister, done anything to stop the attacks by thugs in the name of cow-protection.

Dented electoral prospects

However, the issue now is beginning to damage the BJP, at least in the North East and, if observers are to be believed, will dent its electoral prospects in the region.

Kevi Keviho, former President of Naga Hoho, the apex body of Naga tribes, told Catch that the issue clearly shows that BJP doesn't understand the sensibilities of the people in the North Eastern states. Beef, he said, was the main food for people in the hills who are dependent upon it to survive the chilly weather. 

Keviho confirmed that Marak's resignation indeed showed that the local BJP leadership, which is in tune with local sensibilities, is resisting the party's beef politics. He said he could see the issue ultimately leading to the BJP's downfall in the region because whatever power the party has achieved so far is without facing electoral contests. 

Pradip Phanjoubam, Editor of the Imphal Free Press, informed that Meghalaya was not alone and there were protests in Nagaland too. The population in these states, he said, is essentially over 90% Christian and there is no appeal for the beef agenda.

Even in Manipur, he explained, where the BJP recently formed a government, the government was in a minority and if beef politics was pushed there, it will damage the BJP. If they are pushed, there will be turmoil, Phanjoubam cautioned.

Beef is the main food for people in the hills who are dependent upon it to survive the cold

Gentleson Vashum, a social worker in Nagaland, agreed with this assessment and added that along with beef, imposition of Hindi was also another BJP ploy that is riling people across the region. He said though there haven't been any public protests so far because most North Eastern states, apart from Assam and Manipur, have no tradition of rallies, there are under-currents indicating that people are not happy.

There is another side to Marak's resignation, said Patricia Mukhim, Editor of The Shillong Times. She said Marak is a former militant and the prospect of former militants succeeding in electoral politics was in any case bleak. She suspected Marak of trying to cook up a storm because he wasn't sure of getting a ticket from BJP to contest the assembly elections, next year.

However, Mukhim added, that doesn't take away from the fact that Meghalaya and all other tribal dominated states of the region were upset with the BJP because of its anti-beef agenda. 

Quite simply, she explained, people prefer beef because chicken is costlier (at Rs 320/kg against Rs 280/kg for beef) and also much healthier, being free from chemicals. She too agreed that the issue could damage BJP's electoral prospects in the region.

First published: 2 June 2017, 19:26 IST
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.