Perhaps we should have BJP governments all over the country, it will provoke us to look deeper into our flaws.

Why do all the meat-bans come out of the woodwork only when the BJP is in powerBy Al Jazeera English (BJP and Shiv Sena flags) via Wikimedia Commons
Voices Opinion Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - 16:42

All of a sudden, India is meat-ban country.

For those who are late to the veggie party, there have been three separate instances in the past fortnight which have led to three different sets of liberal outrages and right-wing counter-outrages.

First, the Maharashtra government was attacked for ‘banning meat’ during the Jain festival of Paryushan. It emerged later that the slaughter and sale of meat was first introduced by a Congress government in 1994 for two days every year, but was never properly implemented. After the BJP came to power in Maharashtra, the ban was extended to four days, ostensibly under pressure from the influential elites of the Jain community, and other Hindu politicians who saw political capital in such a move.

The next outrage cycle was over the Jammu and Kashmir High Court’s judgment upholding a 153-year-old ban on the slaughter of cow, ox or buffalo, and on possession of the meat of these animals. The ban already existed and was left to itself as no one bothered to follow it. But when a Public Interest Litigation was filed recently seeking its proper adherence, the court, in keeping with the law, held that it should be put into practice. A BJP-PDP alliance is ruling the state now.

And now, we are amidst an outrage cycle over the meat ban in Karnataka during Ganesh Chathurthi. According to media reports, apparently there are 9 days in a year on which the slaughter and sale of meat is banned in Karnataka. This was introduced first by Yeddyurappa’s BJP government, and the present Congress government never realized it was to revoke it.

The BJP governments in each state, past and present, have been at the receiving end of civil society’s admonishment, the media’s tough questioning and a barrage of shaming on social media.

But in all the three cases, as is evident, it isn’t just the BJP which is responsible for the existent laws. In the case of Maharashtra, the laws were actually put in place by a Congress government, though BJP cannot be absolved of the responsibility of wanting to extend the ban. In J&K, the ban has existed for 153 years, through several Congress-backed or NC governments since Independence. Congress is in power in Karnataka now, and had to be rudely woken up to reality.

There need not be any doubt over the intention of any BJP government – there are sections in the party which have a Hindu conservative agenda and they will seek every opportunity to legislate our lives back to the glorious Vedic times. But why is it that none of these issues prop up when the political environment is conducive to change, under a progressive government? Why does it take a hyper-alert media during a BJP government to cry controversy for the issues to be brought to attention?

I have two theories, both of which present a major problem with our polity.

One, it is our ignorance of our own laws, and that we still don’t understand that the government will always remain a tool for oppression. We must reconsider our view of the role of the government in our lives.

The problem is, we have started identifying social problems with political parties, and them alone, and thereby our idea of solving social issues is also through political preferences. So when a Congress government is in power, we kick back and relax, assuming that the government will not do anything to disturb the ‘secular fabric’ of India. We instead go around looking only for corruption scandals. That presents a major problem, because it means that we don’t understand that our laws give the government the power to control every aspect of our lives, and only when the government is stripped off such powers, are we more secure. We might be better off under a progressive party’s rule, but every time there is a conservative government in power, such laws will be misused to serve illiberal agendas.

We have to be alert always, and especially when parties claiming to be secular and progressive come to power – because that’s when we can change our laws and strip the government of its unbridled powers. The BJP is a conservative party, they were voted to power for that reason. It’s the other parties which claim to be progressive, and we have to hold them to it.

Second, ‘progressive’ parties in India are often only paper tigers. What’s worse, many of them are known to baulk and safeguard their Hindu vote-banks when faced with a conundrum.

A case in point is the anti-superstition bill in Karnataka. Two years in, the Congress has still not enacted the law which rationalists, including the recently murdered writer MM Kalburgi, have been demanding for years. So much so, that several rationalists recently alleged that the Karnataka Congress government is indulging in soft-Hindutva and that’s why they do not want to enact the law.

In the run-up to the 2014 elections, the Congress government at the Centre hanged both Kasab and Afzal Guru for mere political optics, to show they were not soft on Islamic terror. Both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi were known to be opportunistic enough to peddle soft-Hindutva when threatened by political opponents.

Just recently, in Kerala, the CPM was so threatened by the saffron surge that it celebrated Krishna Jayanti to safeguard the Hindu section of their vote bank, and covered it up by calling it an extension of Onam celebrations.

There is a deeper flaw in Indian liberalism. We have not yet begun to understand that it is the government which has been, and will always remain, a tool of oppression – whoever the oppressor is. As Pratap Bhanu Mehta says, India needs to be a zone of individual liberties, not the playground of seemingly liberal but manipulative political parties. And until then, evidence suggests it is perhaps better to have BJP governments all over the country, it will probably provoke us sit up and look at the deeper flaws in our laws and government. 

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