What makes the BJP take two different stands in the two neighbouring states? It can be partly answered by the stand its ruling governments have taken.

BJP supporters take out a rally in Tamil Nadu They are bike-borne and waving the BJP party flag
news 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly Election Thursday, March 25, 2021 - 17:34

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to be wielding two different politics in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, two states that are going to Assembly polls on April 6, when it comes to its push for a cow slaughter ban. In its 2021 election manifesto for Tamil Nadu, the BJP said it will impose a ban on cow slaughter. In its election manifesto for Kerala, on the other hand, there is no such mention of a cow slaughter ban.

In BJP’s Tamil Nadu poll promise, the BJP also said that, if elected, smuggling cows to other states, including Kerala, for meat will be banned and that the rescued cows will be sent to cow-sheds at various temples for upkeep. AIADMK, which has formed an alliance with BJP in Tamil Nadu, however, has not made such promises in its manifesto.

So what makes the BJP take two different stands in the two neighbouring states? It can be partly answered by the stand its ruling governments have taken in the matter and the perception about beef consumption among the people of these states.

In Kerala, beef is an integral part of its secular culture. Be it Beef Ularthiyathu, Malabar Beef Roast and Beef Curry, political leaders and common people in Kerala stand united for beef and resort to hacks and beef festivals when right-wing groups try to take it off their menu.

According to Jacob George, a senior political journalist, many youngsters in Kerala are joining BJP. “But they do not have any fear there will be a beef ban in Kerala.”

Ramu Manivannan. Professor, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras, pointed out that in Kerala, beef is an active part of their food culture. “Be it in a tea shop of restaurants, there is a beef item on the menu. In Tamil Nadu, although many consume beef, it is not a food culture one could associate with,” he said. 

“BJP choosing to speak about the cow slaughter ban in Tamil Nadu, and not in Kerala, is purely vote politics. They speak about cow slaughter in the north differently, in Tamil Nadu differently, and in Kerala very differently,” noted Ramu.

He also noted that there is a sense of mutual tolerance for beef consumption in Tamil Nadu. “A person who worships cattle or does not consume the meat does not tell another person here not to eat beef. In Kerala, beyond tolerance, it is a food culture. In north India, no such lines are drawn,” he said, adding that the AIDMK will neither comment on BJP’s manifesto nor on the cow slaughter ban. “They are being politically correct.”

Beef consumption in south

A 2016 survey by the Registrar General of India had revealed that 97.65% in Tamil Nadu are non-vegetarians and in Kerala, 97% of the population, too, are non-vegetarians. According to the Household Consumption Expenditure survey of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) in 2011-2012, the number of people consuming beef or buffalo meat in Tamil Nadu was 39,85,492, while it was 79,50,747 in Kerala.

Amongst the southern states, Karnataka had the lowest percentage of non-vegetarians with 78.9 per cent. Incidentally, in February 2021, the BJP-led government in Karnataka passed the anti-cow slaughter law, which will attract a fine between Rs 50,000 and Rs 10 lakh per animal and three to seven years of imprisonment if found guilty of slaughtering a cow, calf of a cow, bull and bullock.

Political reactions to earlier bans

In 2017, when the Union government had notified new rules under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which bans the sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets, the ruling AIADMK government maintained stoic silence while other parties in the state condemned it.

In Kerala, however, it was a different picture altogether. It was one of the few occasions where the ruling CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Opposition came together — apart from the Citizenship Amendment Act or CAA — to condemn the Union’s government’s cow slaughter ban and sought a revocation. In fact, the Kerala Assembly convened to specifically discuss the cattle ban notification.

Terming the notification impractical in a state like Kerala, where about 95% of the population is non-vegetarian, Pinarayi Vijayan said, “It is clearly an intrusion into the citizens' choice of food." Both LDF and UDF said the ban was communal and against the working class and the small and medium farmers. What’s more, the Assembly canteen even served some beef dishes that day.

Even in 2015, when the Delhi police raided the Kerala House in the national capital after a Hindu Sena leader complained that the canteen was serving beef, the then UDF government, led by Oommen Chandy, condemned the Union government. AK Antony, former Defence Minister and senior Congress leader, said, “Individuals can decide what to eat and what not to; nobody can dictate what another person should eat.”

How people made their choice clear

In July 2019, 24-year-old Mohamed Fisan, a resident of Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu, was attacked for posting a picture of him eating beef curry, on Facebook. As news about the incident went viral, hashtags likes #beef4life and #beef started trending on Twitter, with many, including those from Tamil Nadu, pointing out that they have the right to choose what to eat. Some also posted pictures of beef dishes in response to the attack.

Similarly, in 2003, when late former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa imposed a ban on sacrificing animals and birds in and around temples, she faced major criticism and protest from devotees and AIADMK supporters, primarily Thevars who belong to the Other Backward Classes (OBC). She had to soon repeal it. She even suffered an electoral rout in the 2004 Lok Sabha election and the 2006 Tamil Nadu Assembly election, arguably due to the ban she tried to impose. 

Even when certain right-wing groups, in 2015, tried to crack down on cattle traders and beef merchants who were exporting meat from Tamil Nadu to other states such as Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, many protested. Reportedly, following a shortage in beef supply, then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy wrote to J Jayalalitha. The matter was soon resolved. 

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