Food and eating habits have by no means been at the centre of Maharashtra’s politics for the past many a decade. However since the BJP government came to power last year, food particularly the non- vegetarian kind, has become an important political issue in the state.
After the banning of beef in March which drew limited protests from largely Muslims and Dalits, the state is witnessing yet another attempt to curb non-vegetarian eating habits.
The decision to ban the consumption of meat for eight days was taken by the BJP-led Mira Bhayander Municipal Corporation (MBMC) during Paryushan when the Jain community practices temporal monasticism. The community believes that violence against all living beings should be curtailed during these days. As a mark of respect, abattoirs remain closed across most of Maharashtra’s major cities for a couple of days.
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The insistence of the MBMC on closure as well as on private consumption of meat for all eight days has raised the eyebrows of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) as well as the Shiv Sena (SS) as the decision is likely to have an impact on a largely meat and poultry eating Marathi population.
The MNS which has been fast losing ground and political relevance in Maharashtra has been raking up the issue of vegetarian terrorism in the city. It has been at the forefront of leading agitations against discrimination that non-vegetarian home buyers face in certain pockets of the city. It has also been demanding action by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) against those builders who deny houses to people because of their food preferences.
The agitation has found much resonance amongst the Marathi population. With elections of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) slated for 2017, the Shiv Sena too has jumped into the fray to ensure that it does not cede its space as the champion of Marathi rights to the MNS.
That the BJP is contemplating breaking its local level alliance and fighting the corporation elections on its own has also forced the Sena to brace itself against any political fallout.
The BJP has projected itself as the patron of the mercantile community in the city which is largely Gujarati and Jain. With the party going out of its way to adhere to the demands of its voter base, the Sena has decided to turn the heat on the anti meat ban protest.
Interestingly, the demands and protest are marked by contradictions. The Jains have sought a ban against mutton and chicken but are comfortable with the sale of fish and eggs. The Sena is protesting against the BJP-led MBMC’s eight-day ban on meat — later upturned and changed to a two-day closure of abattoirs. However, in Mumbai the BMC, governed by the Sena, has asked abattoirs to remain closed for four days.