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J&K beef ban: why BJP's attack on MLA Rashid is a recipe for disaster

Catch Team | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 5:35 IST

The attack

  • BJP MLAs assaulted Engineer Rashid in the assembly
  • Reason: the legislator held a beef party to protest the beef ban
  • He was rescued by National Conference legislators

The fallout

  • It has given the beef ban issue a deeply communal colour
  • Rashid has come to represent the Kashmiris\' hurt religious sentiment
  • It could lead to a Kashmir vs Jammu clash like during 2008 stir

More in the story

  • Was the attack on Rashid just a ruse to torpedo the anti-beef ban bills?
  • CM Mufti Sayeed asked his BJP deputy to make amends for the attack. What did he do?

When independent MLA Engineer Rashid entered the assembly on 8 October, a group of BJP legislators surrounded him. They grabbed his collar and punched his face; some even pinned him down and sat on his chest.

National Conference MLAs, including former chief minister Omar Abdullah, who were sitting nearby jumped to his rescue. They pushed back the BJP men and freed Rashid.

The incident represents the lowest point so far in the political ferment over the beef ban controversy.

In the valley, the assault on Rashid wasn't only interpreted as part of the beef ban politics, it took on a deeply communal colour. And Rashid, who comes from a far-flung village in north Kashmir, suddenly came to represent the hurt religious sentiment of Kashmiris.

"We also have sentiments. We should not have a situation where, while constantly deferring to your sentiments, our sentiments are relegated to the background," Omar later told the assembly.

"My religion forbids liquor. This doesn't mean we'll beat everyone who drinks. My religion forbids pork. But it doesn't mean we kill everyone who eats pork."

Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed, who spoke after Omar, condemned the attack on Rashid. "You can't manhandle a lawmaker, whatever the reason," he said, and urged the BJP leader and deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh to make amends.

To Mufti's visible dismay, however, Singh didn't do any such thing. He said the BJP disapproved of the attack but blamed Rashid for provoking it by holding a beef party that had hurt the sentiments of the BJP's members.

Adding insult to injury

Though there was no immediate reaction to the attack on Rashid on the street, it did fuel a strong resentment in the valley, already smouldering over the beef ban.

"How can it be that you beat up a legislator championing freedom of choice and religion?" asked Abdur Rehman Dar, a shopkeeper in Lal Chowk. "In this state, more than 70 per cent of the population eats beef. How can you ban it here. And if a legislator asserts this right, how can you assault him in the assembly."

@abdullah_omar: We also have sentiments. My religion forbids pork but do we kill anyone who eats it?

Fearing a reaction from the Hindu majority in Jammu, the government moved to stop internet services in the province. The aim: to prevent people from viewing the footage of the incident and venting anger on social media and "polarising the communal discourse".

Since the J&K High Court upheld a century-old ban on beef following a petition filed by the government's own deputy advocate general Parimukh Seth, the issue has gotten contentious by the day.

The issue came to a boil around the time of Eid-ul-Azha in late September as the Muslims are required to perform animal sacrifice during the festival, with no bar on slaughtering cows.

Fearing mass slaughter of cows and circulation of its videos on social sites, the state had imposed an 81-hour ban on internet during the three days of Eid. This only further angered the people who saw it as an attempt to "legitimise and enforce the beef ban".

Rashid, who has used the issue to lift himself on to the valley's political centre, was unrepentant about holding the beef party. "I will hold a thousand beef parties," he said. "Try and stop me."

rashid embed

Photo: S Irfan/ PTI Photo

Anti-ban bill the real target?

Incidentally, the assault on Rashid detracted attention from the anti-beef ban bills scheduled to be discussed and put to vote in the assembly. The bills were moved by Rashid, veteran Communist leader M Y Tarigami and the National Conference. But the Speaker adjourned the House at 1.30 pm, preventing the bills from coming up for discussion.

The bills had the support of the NC, the Congress and several independent legislators which enhanced their chance of being passed. While the BJP was opposed, the PDP was finding it difficult to back the bills without straining the ruling alliance. At the same time, it could not have opposed the bills for fear of alienating its core Muslim constituency in the valley.

The assault on Rashid detracted attention from the anti-beef ban bills that were to be put to vote

The best course available for the party, therefore, was to abstain. And if that had happened, the decks would have been cleared for their passage.

The ruling alliance, however, ensured the bills were not discussed by getting the assembly adjourned, a tactic first used when a resolution seeking clemency for Afzal Guru was tabled in the House in September 2011.

At that time, all the parties had enacted an elaborate theatre - some staging a fake uproar, others looking on passively - forcing the Speaker Akbar Lone to adjourn the session.

This time though, adjournment is unlikely to extinguish the fire. If anything, the attack on Rashid has only added to the bitterness.

And if it's not contained soon, the state could face a Kashmir versus Jammu clash like during the 2008 Amarnath land row agitation. That will be a recipe for disaster.

Indeed, tension is already building up. Not long after Rashid was attacked, Bajrang Dal took to the streets in Jammu to protest against him for organising the beef party.

They burnt the MLA's effigy at Rehari and demanded his arrest for hurting Hindu sentiments.

Separately, the National Panthers Party as well as Hindutva groups such as Hindu Shiv Sena, Hindu Kranti Dal, Shiv Sena Hindustan, Sri Ram Sena, Rastryawadi Shiv Sena also organised protests.

In neighbouring Udhampur district, tension gripped Chenani tehsil after people reportedly found cow carcasses near the Sub Divisional Magistrate's office.

"Yes, three cow carcasses were found," Udhampur SSP Mohammad Suleman Choudhary said. "We are investigating who is behind this."

First published: 9 October 2015, 1:04 IST