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Cow politics and the Bihar polls

Cow politics and the Bihar polls
No one thought that beef and meat ban or reservation would become key poll issues in Bihar. At this juncture, however, the major political parties are battling with these two contentious issues, while development – the mantra of both Prime Minister Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar- has taken a backseat. The cow, revered by the Hindus, has now been turned into a political weapon.

It is common knowledge that even an innocuous thing could trigger a communal incident. But what happened in Dadri was much more than that as mob lynching of 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq over rumours of consuming beef in Dadri area of Uttar Pradesh has shocked the country. The incident has become a major issue in electioneering in the far away Bihar. This is bound to have its echo in the 2017 U.P Assembly polls too. What is unfortunate is that politicians of all hues are trying to exploit the incident for their vote bank politics.  While the BJP is trying to consolidate its Hindu votes; the other so-called secular parties are eyeing the Muslim vote bank. Fringe elements on both sides have become active disturbing the law and order in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere.

Look at the number of leaders from all over the country making a beeline to Dadri to make provocative speeches. In the process, the affected family is running for cover while it is the duty of the state to protect the citizens.  Ironically it was Delhi chief minister Kejriwal who said “Who benefited from this? Not the Hindus. Not the Muslims. Only political parties and political leaders benefited from this incident,” after meeting the victim’s family forgetting he was also one of them.  

Take the case of Samajwadi party. The U.P Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is busy getting ready for the 2017 UP polls. In fact, many see the Dadri incident as a rehearsal for the Assembly polls as it suits both the BJP as well as the Samajwadi Party to polarise the voters.

For the record, the chief minister has dismissed the criticism of his government saying the SP would ‘never do politics’ on such incidents. “Since SP government came to power there are some forces trying to create one or the other atmosphere,” he alleged after meeting Akhlaq’s mother Asgari, brother Mohammed Afzal and daughter Shaista. Although he has promised a compensation of Rs 40 lakh, house, and complete security of the family as well as a job to one family member, obviously the family does not want to remain in Dadri.  By the way, where is the SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav?

The Bahujan Samaj Party, on the other hand, has blamed the ruling Samajwadi Party for its inability to control the law and order situation in the state. “Both, the BJP and the SP thrive in an atmosphere of communal hatred and this incident has proved this. Both the parties worked hand-in-glove in such situations,” Mayawati claims.

The BJP speaks in different voices. While the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had condemned the incident and Home Minister Rajnath Singh has asked the Uttar Pradesh government to present a report on the incident, there are shriller voices emerging from some other ministers like Mahesh Sharma and controversial BJP MLA Sangeet Som. Bihar BJP leader and chief ministerial aspirant Sushil Modi has come out with a statement that the BJP will enforce the cow slaughter ban if voted to power.

The BJP is looking to the reverse polarisation. Cow slaughter ban and reservation are two issues the BJP hopes to benefit from consolidation of its vote bank. It helped the BJP in the 2014 general elections and it is likely to benefit the saffron party in the ongoing Bihar elections. Already there is counter to Lalu Prasad Yadav’s statement that “many Hindus eat beef” from former BJP minister Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav. He called it an insult to the ‘Yaduvanshis’ to whom the cow remained a sacred animal.

The Congress, which has lost its core voters in UP and Bihar, claims that it was a politico- ideological murder committed by some people who are trying to change the narrative of the country. It questions why the government should dictate about what people should eat, what they should wear, how they should talk and has appealed to all right thinking people to stand up against it. Mahatma Gandhi was clear that cow slaughter cannot be used as a weapon for a political issue despite his Vaishnavite belief.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi, who is trying to expand his influence in UP and Bihar questioned Modi’s silence on what he called a “pre-planned murder” after visiting  Dadri in Uttar Pradesh, to console Mohammed Aqlakh’s family.

Communist Party of India general secretary S Sudhakar Reddy said his party was surprised at Modi’s “silence” on such “irrational and intolerant” killing of innocent people.

The Trinamool Congress, which is also looking to Muslim vote bank, has questioned why Prime Minister Modi is silent on the issue.

What one should worry about is that it is not the issue of cow protection but mob lynching and the overall direction where politics is going.  This new and ugly politics is turning into a majoritarian versus the minoritarian tug of war. Unfortunately, the voice of the moderate element is not heard as the extremists on both sides are growing louder. The voice of tolerance and accommodation are getting lost. The son of the lynched victim is right when he says do not try to divide the communities. If you can’t unite at least, stay out.

(Views expressed are personal)
Kalyani Shankar

Kalyani Shankar

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