A little over two years ago, when BJP President Amit Shah arrived in Shillong for his maiden visit to the Meghalaya capital, he was greeted with a beef party by an organisation called Thma U Rangli-Juki (TUR). Beef – or restrictions on it – was then not an issue. TUR members sang protest songs, distributed beef and displayed placards demanding the arrest of the BJP President for allegedly inciting attacks and atrocities on minorities. While police prevented the TUR protesters from reaching the venue where Shah was to address party workers, they did manage to organise their “beef lunch party” in front of Raj Bhavan for about an hour, one that was quickly picked up by the media.
Now, the Centre’s ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter at markets has become a nation-wide issue and its impact will impact be felt in the north east. A predominantly Christian state like Meghalaya has seen at least two state BJP leaders – West Garo Hills district president Bernard Marak and North Garo Hills district president Bachu Marak – quit the party in protest against the restrictions on beef. The party’s state chief Shibun Lyngdoh has claimed, however, that the duo had quit because they “could not continue in the party for other reasons.”
Nalin Kohli, BJP’s secretary in-charge of the state has dismissed any major impact of the two resignations on the party. The two Maraks are not very important leaders in the hill state –Bernard Marak is a former self-styled leader of a breakaway faction of the Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC). Meghalaya’s well-known journalist and editor Patricia Mukhim has said that Bachu Marak is little-known even in the Garo Hills.
The Congress has picked up the issue as one of the BJP’s alleged “anti-people policies”, especially as Meghalaya is heading for assembly elections early next year but so far there has not been any major public protest in the hill state where over 90 per cent of the population is Christian, although a few letters have appeared in local newspapers and social media is full of comments against the Centre’s order.
Beef consumption is high in six north-eastern states – Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh but its popularity differs from state to state. In Assam, where Muslims constitute more than 30 per cent of the total population, beef consumption is the highest in the region. Predominantly, Christian, Meghalaya comes second; the state’s annual requirement of beef stands at around 15,000 tonnes, of which only about one-third is produced within the state. Though the majority of the Nagas and Mizos are also Christians, pork is more popular in Nagaland and Mizoram. In Arunachal Pradesh, on the other hand, tribal communities have been sacrificing the mithun (or Gayal) during rituals and festivals, while beef has gradually gained popularity, especially with the number of Christians increasing over the decades.
Ruled by the Left Front since 1993, Tripura sees the beef ban order more as a farmers’ problem than as a religious or cultural one. How will people take care of their livestock when it becomes redundant if they are not allowed to sell their cattle, asked Aghore Debbarma, state agriculture and animal husbandry minister, who is a member of the CPI(M) central committee in Agartala.
Tripura, which shares 856 km of international boundary with Bangladesh, will also face problems because of the new rules that restrict setting up animal markets 50 km from the international border. “Tripura has a large number of weekly cattle and general markets, besides permanent towns that are much less than the 50 km from the Bangladesh border. Imagine the impact such an order would have on the local economy,” Debbarma asked in Agartala.