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The BJP's losing battle against beef

By Amulya Ganguli
February 09, 2016 10:22 IST
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'The BJP sees investments, both foreign and domestic, as their pathways to political power and not the construction of the Ram temple or a nationwide ban on beef.'
'It will have no option but to let commerce prevail over religious sentiments,' says Amulya Ganguli.

It is doubtful if Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has thought through all the implications of his government providing special licences to foreigners for eating beef.

First, the concession, even to non-Indians, will be regarded as an affront to Hindu religious sentiments by supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

The house owners among them will be loathe to rent out their premises to such beef-eaters, special permits or not

Secondly, the permission for eating beef entails the killing of cows -- an abhorrent concept to the Sangh Parivar.

Besides, the step will run counter to the law enacted by the state government last year, prohibiting the slaughter of cows along with the sale, trafficking and consumption of beef.

At one stroke, the government's latest initiative will nullify all the four bans.

Why has the government taken this step which goes against the grain of all that the Parivar has preached all these years?

It is to ensure that beef-eating foreign investors are not discouraged by the various prohibitions. At the moment, Haryana expects investments from China and Japan, both beef-eating countries.

,font size=7>As the BJP interacts more and more with the world, it will realise that beef, rather than chicken and lamb, is the most popular of non-vegetarian items all over the world.

The need, therefore, for licences for their consumers who will come to India to run their businesses will continue to grow if the BJP is keen on investments.

As a result, it will have no option but to let commerce prevail over religious sentiments.

In the 90 years since the formation of the RSS and 35 years of the BJP, the various compulsions of the overseas mercantile world hadn't bothered the two organisations.

Their objective was based on the 'Hindi, Hindu, Hindusthan' slogan envisaging a predominantly Hindu nation -- all Indians are Hindus, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has said -- comprising vegetarians.

Although the Jan Sangh -- the BJP's predecessor -- was seen as a party of traders, its commercial interests were insular in nature, confined to Hindusthan.

The ungodly outsider or mlechha had nothing to do with the business dealings of the party's conservative and patriarchal urban traders.

Enter Narendra Modi and this mould of orthodoxy is on the verge of cracking. Notwithstanding the objections of the protectionist Swadeshi Jagran Manch, the anti-FDI Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and others in the saffron fold, including the BJP which still vows to disallow foreign investment in the retail sector, the winds of globalisation are threatening to sweep away the previously secure saffron redoubts, which used to thrive in the kirana stores in the dingy lanes of north Indian mofussil towns.

Their places are now being taken by the dazzling shop fronts and the alluring ambience of the malls and multiplexes in emerging towns like Gurgaon and Noida near Delhi and virtually all over the country.

In this hedonistic atmosphere of consumerism, the BJP is fighting a losing battle against individual preferences in the matters of eating, drinking and choosing life, or live-in, partners.

It may not be unrealistic to say that the Haryana government's licences for foreign beef-eaters will be extended in course of time to Indians as well if only because such restrictive permissiveness may not stand legal scrutiny.

True, it is allowed in states like Gujarat in the case of alcohol. But prohibition -- whether total or partial (as in Kerala) -- is facing legal challenges in view of the arguments about its ill-effects, such as encouraging bootlegging. Only the Directive Principle in its favour in the Constitution remains its last line of defence.

Culinary choices are something else. As it is, several BJP leaders are retreating from their earlier outright condemnation of beef-eating because of the realisation that such an uncompromising stance is untenable in today's world.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who is from cosmopolitan Goa, has said, for instance, that eating beef is a matter of 'individual opinion' and even the veteran Kalraj Mishra from the more orthodox UP has said that 'If people eat beef, how can you stop them?'

Evidently, vigilantism is no longer preferred, presumably after the lynching in Dadri of a Muslim man suspected of eating beef.

It would have been unthinkable in, say, the 1990s when the BJP was emerging from the margins of politics to enter centre-stage, for any of its stalwarts to speak in favour of beef. Such irreverence towards the holy cow would have been associated with the alienated secularists.

But the BJP now sees investments, both foreign and domestic -- as their pathways to political power and not the construction of the Ram temple or a nationwide ban on beef.

The 21st century has trumped medievalism.

Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs

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