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Will the BJP make India Veg?

Last updated on: June 02, 2017 10:07 IST

'The BJP and RSS may realise that it is much easier for the ICHR to rewrite textbooks and for the ICSSR to float its bizarre interpretations on social themes than to keep people away from their favourite dishes,' says Amulya Ganguli.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

Unlike the first phase of the BJP's emergence as a major player in Indian politics in the 1990s, the party is now somewhat more methodical about trying to ensure that the Hindutva agenda can take root.

The earlier focus on the Ram temple has given place, therefore, to a systematic subversion of institutions and multicultural tenets.

The erosion of the status of the former can be seen in the appointment of saffron apparatchiks to well-regarded bodies like the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and others.

Their reduction into virtual appendages of the RSS cannot but lead to the spread of outlandish ideas such as that Hindus became scheduled tribes and scheduled castes because they ran away into the jungle to save themselves from Muslim invaders, as the new chief of the ICSSR has said.

Even as these institutions peddle myths about the past, the BJP is trying to modulate the present by inducing lifestyle changes.

Diet is a main component of this agenda because of the close connection between food habits and provincial identity as well as culture.

For instance, machher jhol and bhat (fish curry and rice) are associated with Bengalis just as idli-dosa is with Tamils.

Beef is of vital importance in this respect because a number of states does not share the antipathy of the saffron brotherhood towards beef or its preference for vegetarianism.

The BJP itself has been careful about pushing its views on the subject lest it undermines the party's all-Indian ambitions.

A BJP candidate for the parliamentary by-election in Muslim-dominated Malappuram constituency in Kerala had promised, therefore, to supply good quality beef if elected. He later withdrew his statement and lost.

Some months ago, the chief of Kerala's BJP unit, V Muraleedharan, had said that his party 'had no intention to regulate the food habits of people.'

The BJP is going about, therefore, in a roundabout way to deal with the issue of beef consumption by banning the slaughter of cattle on the grounds of preventing cruelty to animals though it had no hesitation about the objections of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to the Tamil sport of jallikattu which involves the ill-treatment of bulls.

It is open to question, however, as to how far the BJP will succeed in turning Indians into vegetarians -- so far only the Gujarat chief minister has vowed to do so in his state -- or persuade Muslims in general to serve only milk and milk products at iftar functions during Ramzan, as the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, the RSS' Muslim wing, has decided to do.

There is a little doubt that making a country as diverse as India to conform to Hindutva fetishes on food is a Herculean task.

That the BJP is undertaking it speaks volumes about its commitment to the saffron cause.

However, such an endeavour carries the risk of proving to be counterproductive with more people choosing to have a bite at the beef festivals than they would have otherwise.

In the end, the BJP and the RSS may well realise that it is much easier for the ICHR to rewrite textbooks and for the ICSSR to float its bizarre interpretations on social themes than to keep people away from their favourite dishes.

At the same time, the BJP will know in its heart of hearts that a Hindu rashtra will remain a distant dream if people continue to eat beef even if only in a few states.

In addition, the travails of the meat and leather industries will make a mockery of the 'Make in India', digital India, etc projects.

If beef continues to be sold, therefore, and the Ayodhya temple is not built, the BJP will not be able to claim -- at least to its ardent followers -- that its mission has been accomplished even if it gets more seats in the Lok Sabha in 2019 as party chief Amit Shah believes.

There is another snag. Stirrings of discontent can be noticed among some of the saffron bloggers, one of whom recently wrote that 'the RSS/BJP, in spite of having a strong, nationalistic, selfless, determined cadre base, has failed to develop a coherent theory for the Hindu revival movement. It failed to evolve any political discourse rooted in the Indic worldview.'

'Instead the BJP, for long, has walked on the path laid down for it by secularists, Marxists and the West.'

The deracinated Macaulay-putras may well win in the end.

Amulya Ganguli comments on current affairs.

Amulya Ganguli