There’s difference between ‘please don’t eat beef’ and ‘stop eating beef now’: Himanta Biswa Sarma

With two BJP leaders in Meghalaya leaving the party over the Centre’s contentious notification on cattle sale, and the issue far from dying, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam minister and convenor of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), the NDA’s Northeast avatar, tells Abantika Ghosh that the issue will not impact the BJP’s ambitions in the region, and the party is only “requesting” people to shun beef.

Written by Abantika Ghosh | Published: June 7, 2017 12:49:53 am
Himanta Biswa Sarma, Minister for Education, Health and Finance (Assam), at Idea Exchange. Express photo by Cheena Kapoor

BJP has big ambitions in the Northeast. What impact would the cattle notification have on that?

People of the Northeast understand that there is no ban on eating beef, (that there has been) no attempt to control individual food choices. These are just some regulations about where and in what conditions beef can be sold, which were brought because there was a Supreme Court order. The government is bound to obey the court, so these regulations should not be seen as an interference in what people eat.

BJP leaders in Meghalaya have already resigned, apparently because they were unhappy with the notification.
Meghalaya is a different issue. We are in the process of reorganising the district BJP offices. Both these people (who quit) were in running for the post of president of their respective districts — Garo Hills and Khasi Hills. Both have now been eliminated from the race, and they have resigned because of that. It has nothing to do with beef. They were encouraged by the Meghalaya chief minister (Congress’s Mukul Sangma), who knows he cannot fight BJP on (the issue of) development.

Have BJP leaders from any other state raised this issue at any level within the party?

None whatsoever, not even in private conversations…if the angst is indeed as great as is being made out by the Meghalaya resignations, why aren’t people from Mizoram, Manipur, Assam, Nagaland raising it as well? I am currently in Karbi Anglong (Assam), where the Hill Council elections are on. Thirty per cent people here are Christians …nowhere was this issue raised. I have travelled in other states also, and there was nothing to suggest people were upset about this. People are not changing their food habits — they understand these are just some regulations related to markets.

There is a perception that the regulations will make it impossible for small-time beef traders to survive. There are concerns that corporatisation would raise prices, making beef unaffordable for the poor.
Regulations on beef trade are not new. There are existing norms — not to sell it in crowded places, near places of worship, etc, (and) this is one more such regulation. I do not know about beef prices, but had they gone up, the local media would certainly have written about it. I do not recall (seeing) any such report.

Is it BJP’s position then that people in the Northeast can eat beef?

Only yesterday, RSS leader Indresh Kumar told people in Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, to shun meat.
We believe in Gandhian principles, we believe in the Constitution… So BJP has the right to ask people to do so… Does the Congress want to change the Constitution? By Directive Principles of State Policy we are obliged not to propagate cow slaughter. There is nothing wrong in saying that cow is holy, that we worship the cow. What is wrong with what Indreshji said? Mahatma Gandhi said it all his life… We are not imposing our ideas on anybody, but we have the right to request people. There is a difference between saying “Please don’t eat beef”, and saying “Stop eating beef now.”

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