Beef Ban: Playing With Fire
There is no doubt the government of India has attempted to prohibit through the backdoor, beef consumption across the country through new rules made under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The rules per se do not explicitly ban cattle slaughter or beef consumption, but they ban the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter in cattle markets, thereby having the same effect. Various experts on Constitutional matters have exposed the Constitutional illegality of the rules, while Madras High Court (at the time of writing this piece) has stayed the operation of the rules. However, the larger than usual acrimonious response of people and of various state governments to this latest attempt to impose this diktat indicates that the people and various state governments have been pushed to the edge, with disturbing implications for the federation that is India.
The most explicit response is seen among the twitterati from Kerala tweeting under the trending hashtag (at the time of writing this) #Dravidanadu, demanding a separate sovereign state consisting of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Ta milnadu and Kerala which speak Dravidian languages. Dravida Nadu was a demand of the Tamil people in between 1940 -1963. Similarly, people in the North-East have spited the rules by having beef festivals while a senior BJP leader from the state resiigned from the party.
What’s more is that preceding the twitterati, the Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan responded to the new cattle rules saying, “Those sitting in Nagpur and Delhi cannot decide the food habits of the Malayalees”. The CM’s statement did not merely express his disdain for the extra-Constitutional authorities attempting to run the country viz a viz the RSS, which is headquartered in Nagpur, and for the authoritarianism that has been consistently demonstrated by the Union government which is the political arm of the RSS which seeks to install a ‘Hindurashtra’. It also implicitly reminded the Union government of the terms under which Kerala, like any other state, became a part of the Union of India. These terms are the various constitutionally guaranteed rights, including preservation of the identity and culture of the ‘Malayalee’ people, as is the case with all the states. Along with the resurrection of the Dravidanadu demand by Kerala twitterati, such strong assertion by its government is a clear message that Kerala will not allow imposition of Hindutva, even if it means churning the volatile pot of identity andautonomy. This is an eventuality we can least afford; we already have enough trouble with it in some parts of our N-Eastern borders and in J&K, causing large numbers of deaths and huge expenditures.
At the same time, Kerala and Meghalaya assemblies have passsed resolutions demanding repeal of the rules. Various non-BJP ruled states too have outright refused to implement the new rules or have said they will approach the courts. This includes Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram, W Bengal, Karnataka and Puducherry, with the Kerala CM taking the lead to get like-minded CMs to come together to fight the Union government on the rule. Mamata Bannerjee has gone a step further and accused the government of deliberately undermining the federal structure of the Union.
These reactions of the given elected state governments are an open rebellion against the Union government, which is the first time this has happened in the republic since 1947, highlighting the deep divergence between the Union government and non-BJP ruled states. This is in turn is causing enormous loss of time and money wasted in dealing with the fallout. The Union government cannot absolve itself of responsibility in the damage to the nation through these consequences of its machinations.
The Tamilnadu BJP unit president Tamilisai Soundararajan lost no time in accusing through a tweet the demand for Dravidnadu as a secession demand, and though this is an immature and rather sportive tit for tat demand, one will have to concede that this deamnd, along with the response of the states is also an understandable natural response of people fed up with the trampling of constitutional guarantees and rights by the Union government and by extra-constitutional groups. The last three years have seen the steady assault on various Constitutional guarantees including the right to expression, religious freedom and social freedom, resulting in violence and murder. Such disruption is usually caused by extra-constitutional groups patronized by the ruling dispensation. These groups strive to enforce the government’s unconstitutional diktats through violence and intimidation.
Yet, the fact remains that there is only so much of violation that people will tolerate because, to form a new nation, they forwent their historical autonomy in exchange for preservation of their historical liberty, fraternity and equality, including the liberty to eat what they want. Without guarantees that would ensure these, no British-era provinces subsequently broken up into states, would have been signatories to the Constitution and become a part of the Union.
The diktats and their fallout have also become a constant nuisance to law and order and development in most states, making governance difficult. The federal structure requires a concerted effort by the Union and state governments to develop individual states, but this cannot happen when the state and the centre are at constant conflict with each other. In the process, there is also a criminal waste of focus, energies and resources of the state governments unproductively utilized to deal with the disturbances caused by the diktats.
In effect, rather than strengthening the federation of states and promoting their inclusive development and growth by sticking to the Constitution, the Union government is sowing the seeds for serious disturbing responses from the people and the states governments.
To continue keeping all the existing states in the federation, and to promote national progress through removing obstacles which distract the states from moving forward with development, there has to be a full-stop to the concerted attacks on Constitutional guarantees around which the states are held together as a nation. The government should also reign in the extra constutuional groups and stop illegally attempting to impose Hindutva on a population where a majority of it is not Hindu. The claim that India is predominantly a Hindu nation by religion, that too a non-beef eating one is a hoax.
Ever since elections were initiated by British rulers, the SCs and STs, who account for 24.2% of the total population, were nominally co-opted by the caste fraternity into Hindu religion to gain the advantage of numbers in the democratic political setup. Inversely, the religious fact is that these people are not initiated into the religion, while Manusmriti categorically emphasizes their religious exclusion. Add to the numbers of SCsand STs the Muslim and Christian beef eaters, along with those within the Hindu faith who relish the meat and you have a situation where the preferences specific to little over one half of the population is being imposed on the other half.
This simply cannot be expected to happen anywhere in the world without serious consequences as it is a deeply discriminatory and violating imposition. Meddling with Constitutional guarantees always runs the serious risk of undrmining the future of the federation of states that is India. .
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