The ongoing controversy over the Narendra Modi government’s strive to impose beef ban through backdoor channels reminds me of the famous statement by former BJP ideologue and Union Minister Arun Shourie. He defined the BJP as ‘Congress Plus Cow’. His point was that without the cow and the communally divisive politics associated with it, there is no material difference in the economic policies between the Congress and the BJP. As a former insider of the Sangh Parivar and also the first-ever minister for disinvestment who ensured the continuation of neoliberal economic policies of the P V Narasimha Rao-led Congress government, Shourie’s observation is valid.
The cow has always been an effective weapon for the BJP, not only to divide people communally but also to divert their attention from the real concerns of the masses. It has been three years since the BJP took over the baton from the UPA government and aggressively pursued the same set of neo-liberal economic policies as the previous government.
Contrary to the tall claims of the Prime Minister as well as the Finance Minister, the economy is facing a slowdown. The promise of two crore jobs every year remains shattered with the lowest-ever job creation in a decade and ominous forecasts of massive lay-offs in the IT sector. Agrarian distress has aggravated, forcing more than 36,000 farmers to resort to suicide. The Kashmir situation has significantly worsened. And dealing a big blow to the government, the much-hyped demonetisation experiment has fallen flat.
Now that the Modi government has no words to explain its non-performance on vital parameters of governance, it is flaring up an extremely emotive issue — the mother cow.
While the recent notification banning sale of cattle for slaughter in livestock markets has come in the garb of regulating cattle trade, it is meant only to serve the political interests of the BJP. It is a blatant attempt to interfere with the powers that are exclusively in the domain of state governments and violates the principles of federalism. The Union government is misusing a Central Act — the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 — by framing fresh rules to encroach on the rights of the States.
Cattle slaughter doesn’t fall under the legislative powers of Parliament, it belongs to the Seventh schedule of the Constitution as entry 15 of State list. Even the PCA Act, 1960, for which the Environment ministry has framed the current rules, allows slaughter. Section11(3)(E) of the said Act permits animals slaughter to meet the food requirements of the people. Beyond this, Section 2(A) of the Act defines the term ‘animal’ in the broadest possible sense, which includes everything except human beings.
When it is clear that the fresh rules will not stand legal scrutiny, there can only be one rationale behind the selective ban on sale of cattle for slaughter — partisan political interests.
Since the legal and constitutional validity of these rules have already been widely discussed, I will confine myself only to its political aspects. The Left is playing the role of a catalyst in fighting the repeated incursions on the right of people to choose their food. Only the Left can lead and sustain this fight owing to its consistent opposition to BJP’s. The Congress is on a weak footing, given the fact it has been responsible for imposing ban on cow slaughter in a number of states. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has already taken the initiative to convene a meeting of all chief ministers to challenge the Centre over the cattle ban. The response to his call has been overwhelming. The objective is to build a broad platform to defend states’ rights and federal principles.
Moreover, this is not just a communal onslaught but also an all-out attack on the economic life of the poorest of our country. The Left is, therefore, also mobilising people to oppose the move that not only hits their livelihood but also takes away a cheap source of nutritious food from mainly Dalits, minorities and the poor. Kerala has already witnessed ‘beef fests’. The protest is gathering momentum and will be intensified further in the coming days.
Significantly, cow politics isn’t palatable within the ranks of BJP leadership either, with one of its top party leaders in Meghalaya openly defying the ban, which in turn led to his expulsion.
BJP and Sangh outfits are also trying to unleash violence against people’s resistance. The brutal attack on Sooraj, a Ph.D Scholar of IIT, Chennai, who participated in a beef fest on the campus, is a cowardly attempt to silence one such democratic protest.
PM Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and the BJP cannot hide behind the holy cow to cover up their failures. They will have to answer the people for not delivering on their promises.
M B Rajesh is a CPI(MP) Member of Parliament from Palakkad, Kerala