How To Take The Ox By Its Tongue
The tabling of the BJP-sponsored bill to ban cow slaughter has been deferred in the face of strong protests from the Opposition. Much as the party would wish, its vision of a grandly monolithic Indian nation has few takers, even among its own people. That there are far too many problems in implementing a uniform cultural code in a society as diverse as India’s was driven home rather literally.
The party’s own state presidents in the Northeast are opposed to the ban. Meghalaya BJP chief W. Kharshiing has written to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, seeking exemption of the northeastern region from the purview of the proposed Bill. "The Centre’s proposal doesn’t go down well with our people and, therefore, I can’t support it," Kharshiing said in his note to Vajpayee. "Beef has always been a part of the traditional diet of tribals in Meghalaya and as you have always shown concern for the well-being of the tribals, may I request you to kindly exempt these states from the purview of the proposed Bill," the letter adds. Nagaland BJP president and former CM Hokishe Sema is also opposed to any ban.
A cross-section of BJP workers that Outlook spoke to in Meghalaya and Nagaland also expressed their resentment. "We can’t be forced to fall in line just because we are from the BJP," a party worker said in Shillong.
Predictably, three CMs from the Northeast—Mizoram’s Zoramthanga, Nagaland’s N. Rio and Meghalaya’s D.D. Lapang—said they can’t accept any legislation that clashes with the indigenous cultures of their respective states. Zoramthanga said, "It must be accepted that India is a multi-ethnic state and, therefore, different ethnic groups have different eating habits."
According to an estimate, at least 50 lakh people across the Northeast are habitual beef eaters. At the moment all states except Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Lakshadweep have a law in place that bans cow slaughter.
By Nitin A. Gokhale