BJP sets prelude to upcoming polls in Gujarat, makes cow slaughter akin to murder

Cow slaughter in Gujarat is now as monstrous a crime as murdering a human being. The new bill as passed by the state assembly on Friday puts the state on having the most stringent law, once it is signed by the governor and notified, in this regard.

 BJP sets prelude to upcoming polls in Gujarat, makes cow slaughter akin to murder

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani. PTI

The bill also puts a blanket ban on the slaughter of not just cow but also on calves, bulls, and buffaloes throughout Gujarat. The political leadership of the state has taken pride over the passage of the bill, which amended the Gujarat Animal Preservation Act of 1954. The law was earlier amended in 2011 when Narendra Modi was the chief minister. The bill intends to make it far tougher than what had been in existence so far.

The current law, which was amended in 2011, the maximum jail term for cow slaughter was seven years. The proposed law with the provision of life imprisonment is much harsher.

Chief Minister Vijay Rupani in a series of tweets said: "The Gujarat Assembly passed a cow protection bill, among d most stringent in d country, making cow slaughter a life time punishable offense." Another tweet said, "To Indians, the cow symbolizes all other creatures. The cow is a symbol of the Earth, the nourisher, the ever-giving, undemanding provider."

Gujarat is one Indian state where vegetarianism, till some years ago, had been the norm and non-vegetarianism was an exception.

It should be noted that Gujarat has passed this bill months ahead of going to the polls scheduled later this year. The move surely will have its own social and political implications. Though given the sensitivity attached with cow slaughter and whole new set of narrative building around the issue, it is unlikely that Congress or any other party which wants to be a political contender in the state will come out in the open to challenge the Rupani government's decision. But then some dust is sure to be raised from other quarters, particularly over the penal provisions incorporated in the bill, as also on misuse and harassment potential by officials and vigilante groups.

The punishment for those found in possession of beef is no less stringent. The provisions of the bill say those found to be in possession of beef will be slapped with a fine that can range from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh, and imprisoned for seven to 10 years. Possession of beef also is a non-bailable offence. Until now, the maximum jail term for possession was seven years, and the minimum term was three years. The penalty was Rs 50,000.

The official argument behind making the penal provisions for cow slaughter far tougher, providing for life imprisonment was that the due to the presence of some loopholes in the existing law. One such argument is that the current law banned the slaughter of milch cattle below the age of 16 years but then some cows were still being slaughtered. Also, the existing law had no provision to prevent transportation of the animal for slaughter. There had been a strong demand from the Maldharis (pastoral people) in Gujarat for stricter laws against cow slaughter and trade of beef.

Gujarat Assembly passed this bill at a time when a raging debate is going on throughout the nation following Yogi Adityanath government's crackdown on illegal slaughter houses in Uttar Pradesh. The ruling BJP in its poll manifesto had talked about the closure of illegal slaughter of cows. In his election rallies BJP president Amit Shah had linked their then proposed measure with theft and smuggling of milch cattle for slaughter leading to depletion of most useful livestock resource. In subsequent action, after the election, ruling party leaders linked it with health hygiene and environmental issues.

Last year, seven Dalits were brutally thrashed by some self-proclaimed 'Gau Rakshaks' for skinning a dead cow. The video of this mindless act by the so-called cow protectors went viral and the state saw one of the most severe incidents of Dalit mobilisation and protest. The issue had stirred national conscience and an impassioned debate around the issue continued for weeks.

It is not known how various social groups would react to the latest amendment of the law. It is also not clear how the government intends to dispose of dead animals, cows, calves, bulls and buffaloes. What if the meat of such animal was found in possession of someone after skinning the carcass.

Will other BJP-ruled states follow Gujarat's example in proposing a kind of law that the state passed? It is difficult to predict for now. But BJP surely will build a narrative around it, as the Assembly election in the state is due towards the end of this year. Gujarat for BJP is not an ordinary state. It is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. The BJP's stakes are thus very high.

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Updated Date: Mar 31, 2017 21:54:14 IST