By Arati Nair:
Beef ban and Gau Raksha have now become indisputably significant in the political discourse of India, pushing primordial issues like poverty, women empowerment, corruption, illiteracy etc. to the back-burner. Following the ban on cow slaughter imposed in many BJP ruled states, the shocking incident of mob violence in Dadri, where a 50-year-old man was attacked and killed for allegedly consuming beef, has further stoked the embers of communal tension in the area. In the ensuing slugfest, rabble-rousers from all parties jumped into the fray, alternately eulogizing and maligning the memory of the dead man for his eating habits.
While the custodians of sanathan dharma and Hinduism unleashed their fury on unsuspecting people who would dare make a meal of their divine bovine, the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) organized a ‘beef fest‘ inside the Sree Kerala Varma College campus in Thrissur, protesting against the injustice. Six students were suspended in this regard for violating the disciplinary rules of the institution. An inquiry was also ordered against an assistant professor from the college for supporting the festival through a Facebook post. “I am strongly opposing the view that educational institutions are temples. It is not the temple rituals that should be followed in colleges. Those who are demanding the ouster of teachers supporting the beef festival should first oust me,” she challenged.
The government-aided college managed by the Cochin Devaswom Board has always had a strict policy against non-vegetarian food inside the campus, which also houses a temple within its premises. Why the students and teachers have woken up to this unjust reality only in the aftermath of the Dadri incident is anybody’s guess.
The management defends its stand, quoting the traditional principles of the college. The principal had warned the organizers to conduct the fest outside, but their blatant refusal forced her to take action.
Student politics in Kerala is characterised by one-upmanship and the SFI’s fervent efforts were soon countered by another beef fest organized by the Kerala Students’ Union (KSU) in Maharaja’s College in Kochi, condemning the Dadri lynching.
All this beef-eating extravaganza in the state, which is undoubtedly beef’s own country, belies the paranoia of all political entities on the eve of the Panchayat elections scheduled for November 2015 and the Assembly elections later next year. The traditional ‘Hindu secular’ vote bank of the Left in Kerala is on the verge of shifting its loyalties to the emerging BJP camp. The result of the Aruvikkara by-poll indicated a surge in the vote share of the BJP, eroding the fortunes of the CPI(M). Keralites, disillusioned by the bipolar contest between the Congress and the Left, are on the lookout for a viable alternative and the Hindu right wing aspires to fill those shoes.
The recent manoeuvring by the BJP to play second fiddle to Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), a powerful caste-based group of Ezhavas with significant influence among voters, is part of its broader strategy to make inroads in the state. While Muslims and Christians, sceptical of the Left ideology, throw their weight behind a communitarian Congress, the Hindus, comprising more than half the state’s population, could potentially make or break the future of the BJP in Kerala.
In this backdrop, the CPI(M) has pursued quite a few burning issues which failed to find resonance among the masses. As opposed to the usual atheistic narrative, it organized processions on Janmashtami to rival the traditional celebrations of the RSS. The symbolic portrayal of Sree Narayana Guru being crucified by Hindutva vigilantes and communal forces soured its relationship with the SNDP, setting the stage for closer ties between the caste group and the Sangh Parivar.
In effect, a dangerous trend of communalising the voters of Kerala is in the offing. While appeasement of minorities has always been the reality of politics in the state, the custom of Hindu vote consolidation (a norm for the CPI(M)) is likely to be usurped by the BJP. The outrage over the Dadri lynching or the beef ban in parts of the country are all mere exercises in tokenism to salvage the dwindling clout of various political outfits in Kerala.
While the average Keralite could care less whether the beef on his plate comes from a cow or a bull, the greater design to curtail one’s freedom to eat food of his or her choice could have grave ramifications for perpetrators of such ridiculous beliefs. Holy or not, the cow is of little political consequence in the state.