The “meat ban”, political parties, and the real minority appeasement
The “meat ban”, political parties, and the real minority appeasement

The “meat ban”, political parties, and the real minority appeasement

Jains constitute less than one percent of the country's population

By ordering a #meatban, as it is called on Twitter, the BJP has unwittingly shed light on the real meaning of a term it has extensively used both as a poll plank, and also as a means to build its constituency of supporters – minority appeasement.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has ordered a ban for four days in September, while in the Mira Bhayander Muncipal Corporation sale of meat has been banned between September 10 and 28 for the duration of the festival.

What the BJP has done is not new, and nor is there any novelty in its reasons for doing so, says Political Editor of the Hindustan Times and Bal Thackeray’s biographer Sujata Anandan.

She said that such bans were ordered even under Congress-NCP governments in the past (Congress-NCP have ordered bans for varying number of days since 2000 at least), but had not been noticed because the two parties had a “secular” colour.

While the BJP was “overtly running roughshod” with civilian freedoms, she added that the Congress-NCP governments in the past were no saints – sedition charges against Aseem Trivedi were a case in point.

If the meat ban was done to protect the interests of minorities, it would have been all right. “But when something is a majoritarian imposition, just because the BJP is in power, it is terrible,” she said, adding that the beef ban too was a worrying sign.

The meat bans during Prayushan in the past as well as the present have been couched in the language of respecting religious sentiments of “ahismsa” which is sacred to Jains and the righteousness of being vegetarian.

However, Anandan points out an irony in the beef ban, which was ordered some time ago. “I don’t know how the beef ban is working out for the Jains. Of the 14 largest abattoirs in the Mumbai, Jains have interests in 11 while Muslims own the remaining three. In Al-Kabir, one of the largest abattoirs in Asia, a Jain family is a partner. The Jains are in it for the leather. I think they will eventually take back the ban.”

She says that “loads of money” were the reason that all political dispensations had ordered the ban during Paryushan. “The Jains are a rich community and they have always supported all parties financially, no matter which party comes to power, so that they can say ‘We supported you’. My guess is that the BJP has to give them their vasuli (the ban for being voted to power),” Anandan says.

This is why, despite being a minority, Jains have the clout to ensure such a ban when the number of meat-eating people in the city – Maharashtrians – is higher than the number of vegetarians.

According to the 2011 Census, Jains constituted 0.4 percent of the population of the country. Data from the 2001 census however, which is the latest year for which figures are available, shows that contrary to popular perception the largest community of Jains is not in Gujarat or Rajasthan, but in Maharashtra.

Of the total Jain population in the country, 30.8 percent lives in Maharashtra, many of them concentrated in Mumbai, even though numbers for this are not available.

While the Jains are clearly a minority on account of their religion, in no way does it imply that they are vulnerable. Anandan recalls that when the civic authorities in Mumbai formulated a rule that 10 percent of land development was to be reserved for people who require socio-economic help such as widows, Dalits, artists, Jains too had demanded to be included as a minority.

“When the lists came out, Jains were on it. The government got shouted down, because Jains are mostly rich,” Anandan says, adding that being a merchant community, they had always been well-off, even rich.

Political fallout

Although the meat ban is not new, there are factors that may adversely affect the BJP.

Recently, a fight between a meat-eating family and a vegetarian housing colony turned into a Marathi vs Gujarati fight. “The fault lines manifesting in small ways,” Anandan says.

Although Modi was the glue that patched up the fractured Sena-BJP alliance after the Maharashtra Assembly polls, Anandan says that the differences remain: Narendra Modi is a Gujarati and the Shiv Sena’s supporters are Marathi.

Also, the Shiv Sena “bitterly fought” against the ban this time, indicating that Modi cannot be the Fevikwik for the fault lines in Maharashtra’s politics of the state vis a viz Marathis and non-Marathis. This hierarchy between the two linguistic communities has been a source of discontent in Mumbai, for a long time: business and economic clout have historically been in the hands of the Gujaratis, and Jains, and Bal Thackeray built his political career on it.

Going by the BJP’s definition of minority – which is only religious – the party is, obviously engaging in “minority appeasement”, the very thing it accuses the Congress of practicing.

However, as the politics of the Jain community in Mumbai shows, the Congress, NCP and the BJP have all appeased one minority, which does not collectively form even one percent of the country.

The News Minute