The contrarian approach of the saffron parties towards the meat ban in Maharashtra during the Jain fasting period of Paryushan reveals that the Sangh Parivar is a divided lot instead of being one united family. Before addressing the issue of disunity among the BJP, Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, let us make one thing aptly clear: the ban on meat is utterly foolish.
Right-wingers are trying to justify it by suggesting that the ban has been in place since a long time; to be precise, since 1964. But merely because a retrograde practice has been carrying on since decades, does it mean that it should be tolerated? Racism, no matter how minute it might be, is a threat and so is food fascism. It cannot be tolerated even if it is for a short period of time. The ban may have gone unnoticed during the 1960s when India was a relatively nascent nation but India of the 21st century is sensible and mature enough to realise that the state does not need to police an individual’s diet in order to ensure that the religious sensibilities of a micro-minority are not offended. Both meat eaters and non-meat eaters have a right to choose what they wish to eat. Let them make the choice instead of the state telling them.
Second, for heaven’s sake do not indulge in the politics of convenience by invoking the name of Akbar. This sudden admiration of the Hindu right for Akbar is most hypocritical. The Twitter trolls who label every Muslim emperor to have ruled India as a communal bigot are now citing the ban which Akbar had put on meat eating during Paryushan to justify what the BJP has done in Mumbai. It is not incumbent upon the government of India or government of Maharashtra to employ the same techniques which were utilised by a monarch centuries ago to cultivate religious harmony. Akbar tried to create a new religion called Din-e-Illahi for the sake of creating religious integration. Will the BJP-Shiv Sena government also attempt to create a new hybrid religion to resolve religious differences? The simple answer is that they won’t.
Coming back to Maharashtra politics, not long ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP managed to take over the leadership of the saffron brigade in Maharashtra from the Shiv Sena by emerging as the single largest party during the Assembly elections held in 2014. While the BJP bagged 122 seats, Shiv Sena came in second with 63 seats. Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) turned out to be irrelevant as it won only one seat, lesser than debutant All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) which won two seats. The results were a matter of deep humiliation for Bal Thackeray’s political heirs – Uddhav and Raj. Following the death of the Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, both Uddhav and Raj had tried to replace him as the new leader of the “Marathi manoos”. But both failed the popularity contest as Modi conquered Maharashtra convincingly.
In February 2017, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the richest municipal body in the world, will go to polls. The BMC has traditionally been controlled by the Shiv Sena but considering the political overtures made by the BJP in the past, it is very much possible that the Modi-Amit Shah combine will intend to dethrone Shiv Sena from the BMC as well. Therefore, it is natural for the Shiv Sena to oppose the BJP at this stage. The same goes for the MNS. The central force in Maharashtra politics is no longer the Congress or Shiv Sena, it’s the BJP. That’s precisely why the Shiv Sena and MNS have harped on the opportunity to oppose the meat ban.
The decision of imposing the ban was taken by the BJP. The Shiv Sena and MNS, by going all out in their opposition to the meat ban, are aligning themselves away from the BJP and trying to encash the anti-BJP sentiment which has emerged owing to this senseless decision. The Shiv Sena and MNS intend to enhance their popularity in the urban areas by speaking out against the meat ban which they hope will provide them electoral dividends in the BMC polls. Another significant reason the Shiv Sena and MNS have decided to take such a political risk is primarily because of the involvement of the Jain community instead of Hindus in the current controversy.
The Jains happen to be a micro-minority with less than limited electoral impact. The approach of the Shiv Sena and MNS would have been different had the meat ban been imposed in relation to a Hindu festival. Jains, though considered by many as a subsect of Hindus, are not Hindus at the end of the day. That’s why the MNS had the courage to roast chicken outside a hall where Jains had gathered in Thane. They would have never done so had it been Hindus instead of Jains. Though the meat ban is a thing to be abhorred, what needs to be equally abhorred are such shameless ways of protest which exemplify a naked majoritarian mindset, bent on harassing minorities by indulging in the most insensitive acts. Consuming meat during Paryushan is a matter of choice but willingly roasting chicken outside a hall full of Jains is an act of mischief.
The MNS would have certainly wanted the Jains to take objection to their crude way of protest. Thankfully, the Jains ignored the agitating political workers and did not provide them with a chance to indulge in a physical brawl. Raj Thackeray’s political ambition of turning this controversy into a “Jain vs Hindu” slugfest should never materialise. This is a question of personal liberty and it should remain that way. Political parties cannot be allowed to further communalise this issue. Uddhav Thackeray has said, “Let us bring the curtains down on the controversy over the meat ban”, but his party’s original stand against the meat ban has made two things clear: not all is fine as far as the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition is concerned. Second, after targeting Muslims, south Indians and north Indians, Jains might be the next set of people to be attacked in Maharshtra by the Shiv Sena on the presumptuous notion of “rich Jains taking away the place of the Maratha people”.
(This article was originally published in DailyO.)