Under the judicial lens
BJP’s expanding political footprint will also allow for contact with unfamiliar lifestyles and gastronomic partiality in various regions.
There was a slight lull in the murderous antics of the gau rakshaks or cow protectors after Narendra Modi said that a majority of them were anti-socials. After the BJP's sweeping victory in UP, however, the rakshaks have regained their righteous anger against the suspected killers of cows, especially if they are Muslims.
This fateful religious identity where the Hindu Gestapo is concerned motivated the killers of Pehlu Khan, who was leading a group of dairy farmers, mostly Muslims, transporting cows from Alwar, Rajasthan, to Mewat, Haryana. It was a rerun of an earlier murder of a suspected beef eater in Dadri near Delhi. Even as Union minister of state for parliamentary affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, one of the BJP's token Muslims, tried to pretend that nothing had happened, the Rajasthan home minister equated the assailants with the victims by saying that both were guilty.
However, the Hindutva camp may not be able to continue with such equivocations since the Supreme Court has now intervened, asking the Centre and several BJP-led state governments about the steps they have taken – or failed to take – against the cow vigilantes. The scope for deliberate or inadvertent official and political inaction, therefore, has been severely limited.
If the BJP chief ministers are compelled to crack down on the gau rakshaks or ask them at least to lie low for a while, it is likely to be considered a serious impediment by the Hindu Right to pursue its divisive objective. If the depredations of the vigilantes are stopped or at least curtailed, the Sangh Parivar's dietary agenda relating to beef will suffer a setback.
The focus of the agenda was clarified with admirable candour by the Gujarat Chief Minister, Vijay Rupani when he said after the passage of a law prescribing life sentence for the killer of a cow that he wanted the state to become vegetarian. As of now, this order cannot be enforced. It can only be an obiter dictum, to use a legal term. But the manner in which the UP results have emboldened the hardliners can be seen from this directive and also from the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh's threat, delivered with a smile, to hang those who kill cows.
Never before, not even during the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, was the BJP so forthright about its obsession with the cow and the culinary prescriptions for the citizens of Hindu Rashtra in the making. The judiciary's decision to ask questions will make the Parivar aware, however, of the difficulties of imposing its wish list.
As it is, political imperatives have come in the way of enforcing the list. Beef, for instance, is kosher in Kerala, Goa and the Northeast. Not long ago, V Muraleedharan of the BJP's Kerala unit had said that his party had "no intention to protest against people eating beef". More recently, a BJP candidate in the Muslim-dominated Malappuram constituency promised to provide "good quality" beef if he was elected.
Goa's Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar also said not long ago that what one ate was a matter of "individual opinion". The Shiv Sena's Uddhav Thackeray, too, had urged the BJP to "stop peeping into homes to see if people eat beef", adding that it is "ghastly to kill people because they consume beef". Since the BJP had assured the north-eastern states before the recent elections that it would not impose a beef ban, it is unlikely that it will do so even if it opens up the party to the charge of speaking with a forked tongue.
It is not only the Supreme Court's castigation of the cow vigilantes which will impede the BJP's efforts to mould the people's food habits in accordance with its own Brahminical ideas of the Hindi belt, the party's expanding political footprints will also make it come into contact with unfamiliar lifestyles and gastronomic partiality in various regions. Yet, the need for widespread support in these previously unexplored territories cannot but compel it to bow to the local preferences even if they are antithetical to what the party practices and preaches in its areas of influence in northern and western India.
Various factors, therefore, including Modi's development agenda with its need for law and order are making an exclusionary party come to terms with the inclusive and pluralistic "idea of India". It is also noteworthy that the saffron Parivar nowadays routinely condemn violence because, as the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has said, it defames the cause. This is a welcome change from the time as after the 2002 Gujarat riots when the supporters of the BJP said that the Muslims had been served right and that the outbreak denoted the rise of the Hindus.
Even then, since the cow and beef are central to the BJP's worldview, any retreat is bound to create fissures in the monolithic Parivar with the more militant groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal straining at the restraining leash. Time will tell whether Modi and Bhagwat will succeed in controlling them – or whether their denunciation of violence will be seen as being for the record only.
(The writer is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)