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Malappuram bypoll: BJP’s shifting view on beef-eating emerges through Kerala politics

Even as the BJP state governments across the country go on a drive to protect cows from slaughter houses, the party’s Lok Sabha by-election candidate in Malappuram in north Kerala has other ideas.

“If elected as an MP I will ensure that good quality beef reaches all of you,’’ BJP’s Malappuram by-election candidate N Sreeprakash said at a press meet on Sunday.

The words are still to be endorsed officially by the state leadership of the BJP in Kerala but certainly it would ruffle some feathers at the top of the party’s command post in Delhi.

On 12 April the Malappuram constituency in north Kerala will go to polls following the untimely demise of its sitting MP and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) leader E Ahmed a few months ago.

Sreeprakash’s words have only made the three way race at an overwhelmingly Muslim dominated Malappuram all the more interesting. The United Democratic Front (UDF) is fielding its usual Muslim League candidate and this time it’s none other than League strong man PK Kunjalikutty, who in all likelihood is expected to win comfortably. The Left and the BJP are testing the waters in what is otherwise a highly polarised minority stronghold in the state.

Sreeprakash may deny making a purposeful comment but his words echo the sentiment in the BJP camp to re-strategise policies according to the need of the place and the voters one caters to.

“I said this in reply to a question and it is not a part of my manifesto. But then in Kerala cow slaughter is not banned by law and one needs to understand that the BJP is not against the eating habits of anyone,’’ Sreepraskah told Firstpost.

Sreepraskash went on to add that if he is elected to the Parliament from the constituency he would ensure that all the facilities at recognised slaughterhouses would be upgraded and even fitted with air conditioners.

“If my Muslim brothers prefer to have good halal beef then the BJP is not against it and it is only wrongly interpreted that the party wants to stifle the eating habits of the minorities. We have no such agenda anywhere,’’ added Sreeprakash.

BJP’s Malappuram Strategy

Many would say that the change of heart for the BJP is forced by the demographics in Malappuram although such tactics are highly unlikely to get the saffron party anywhere close to winning the elections.

The district’s Muslim population stands at a very high 70.2 percent as per the 2011 census while the Hindus are at 28 percent. Hence it is no surprise that Malappuram had always been a stronghold of the IUML.

Before the last delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies almost all the major parts of Malappuram formed the earlier constituency of Manjeri. Since 1962, the IUML always had an MP representing the Manjeri seat at Parliament with the one occasional blemish in 2004 when TK Hamza of the Communist of India (Marxist) walked into the Parliament from the constituency. E Ahamed who passed away recently had been a six time MP from both the constituencies put together.

PK Kunjalikutty an equally powerful leader of the IUML and former Industries minister in the Oommen Chandy cabinet in Kerala is once again the front-runner at Malappuram. The League has also meanwhile scorned at Sreeprakash’s promises to Malappuram’s voters.

“Is the BJP trying to mock the voters in Malappuram. Such absolutely baseless and desperate measures are not going to get that party anywhere. The people of Malappuram are not fools to fall for such stupid promises,’’ says KPA Majeed, State General Secretary of the IUML.

Interestingly the state leadership of the BJP has also not responded in the open to its candidate’s big declaration. The state president Kummanam Rajasekharan when contacted said ‘he was not fully aware of the facts to respond to Firstpost’s questions.’

File image of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Reuters

File image of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Reuters

Perhaps the state leadership does not think it wise to antagonise their central leadership with a pro-beef line and at the same time they realise that an anti-cow slaughter or an anti-beef stand would be a disaster at the Malappuram elections.

Perhaps the soft stand taken by prominent BJP leaders in the state is also reflection of the same.
“Since there is no beef ban in Kerala, why should the BJP oppose beef eating in the state? Let the people eat what they want. The issue arises when there is an existing ban on the product,’’ BJP’s State General Secretary MT Ramesh told media persons on Sunday evening.

But more significantly, Sreeprakash does not seem to stop with just cow and beef. He told Firstpost that if elected to the Lok Sabha, he would raise the question of ‘triple talaq’, an issue that had evoked huge attention among the Muslim population in Kerala.

The issue of marriage of young and often under age women in Malappuram to business men in the Gulf and their subsequent talaqs after a very short period had brought in a lot of media attention over the years. The BJP candidate now hopes he could swing the Muslim women vote bank similar to what the party claims to have done in Uttar Pradesh.

“I think it’s a question of equality for the Muslim women. If they cannot pronounce talaq on the men, then what justice it is when men only can use it for their wishes. So this has to be opposed and we should find a solution through talks and debates on this,’’ added Sreeprakash.

But the CPM rubbishes all such claims of the BJP. AN Shamsheer is the party’s MLA from Thalassery and he says this just an attempt to play to the gallery.

“BJP knows it very well that they just do not stand a chance here at any cost. It is a fight between the IUML and the CPM. So they just want to make some noise here before the election is over. Nothing more, nothing less. There is no commitment in what they have said,’’ said AN Shamsheer to Firstpost.

The politics of beef in Kerala

While cow slaughter and beef continues to be banned across majority of the country, Kerala, along with the North East states, does not have such a ban. But this is not the first time that beef, one of the most favourite dishes of Malayalees has taken centrestage in political discourse.

At the height of the Dadri lynching incident when a Muslim man was killed for killing a cow and consuming its meat, leftist student organisations conducted ‘beef festivals’ at many places in the state as a mark of protest.

Violence had even erupted at couple of venues between student organisations owing allegiance to the CPM and BJP and two colleges in Kerala ended up suspending its students for conducting beef festivals without prior permission.

The Kerala House in Delhi though had to take beef off its menu for a few days, it was back in business after a jurisdiction argument proved that the Kerala House was under the direct control of the state government of Kerala and that the Delhi Police had no business raiding the premises.

Beef has always been a dilemma that had hit the state leadership of the BJP over the years. A few months ago, a local BJP leader from north Kerala was allegedly caught on camera eating beef at a local eatery and the video is said to have gone viral over the social media causing huge embarrassment for the party.

The present change of heart for the BJP over beef in Kerala may have little impact on the outcome of the by-election at Malappuram. But certainly the party knows that only such a stand would help it consolidate the already existing gains in the state, especially when the majority of the Hindus in Kerala have no aversion towards beef eating.

Updated Date: Apr 04, 2017 08:27 AM

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