There is no doubt the government of India has attempted to prohibit through the backdoor, beef consumption across the country through new rules made under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The rules per se do not explicitly ban cattle slaughter or beef consumption, but they ban the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter in cattle markets, thereby having the same effect. Various experts on Constitutional matters have exposed the Constitutional illegality of the rules, while Madras High Court (at the time of writing this piece) has stayed the operation of the rules and there is little doubt that the rules will be consigned to the dustbin by the courts. However, the larger than usual acrimonious response of Keralites and of various state governments to this latest attempt to impose an anti-Constitutional diktat indicates that the people and various state governments have been pushed to the edge, with disturbing implications for the federation that is India.
The most explicit response is seen among the twitterati from Kerala tweeting under the trending hashtag (at the time of writing this) #Dravidanadu, demanding a separate sovereign state consisting of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamilnadu and Kerala which speak Dravidian languages. Dravida Nadu was a demand of the Tamil people in between 1940 -1963. What’s more is that preceding the twitterati, the Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan responded to the new cattle rules saying, “Those sitting in Nagpur and Delhi cannot decide the food habits of the Malayalees”. The CM’s statement did not merely express his disdain for the extra-Constitutional authorities attempting to run the country viz a viz the RSS, which is headquartered in Nagpur, and for the authoritarianism that has been consistently demonstrated by the Union government which is the political arm of the RSS which seeks to install a ‘Hindurashtra’. It also implicitly reminded the Union government of the terms under which Kerala, like any other state, became a part of the Union of India and these terms are the various constitutionally guaranteed rights, including preservation of the identity and culture of the ‘Malayalee’ people, just as is the case with all the states and UTs. Along with the resurrection of Dravidanadu demand by Kerala twitterati, such strong assertion by the Kerala government is a clear message that Kerala will not allow imposition of Hindutva, even if it means churning the volatile pot of identity and autonomy.
At the same time, various states ruled by non-BJP parties have outright refused to implement the new rules or have said they will have it scrapped by the courts. This includes Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram, W Bengal, Karnataka and Puducherry. The Kerala assembly has already a resolution demanding the withdrawal of the rules, while its Chief Minister has taken the lead to get like-minded CMs to come together to fight the Union government on the rule. Mamata Bannerjee has gone a step further and accused the government of deliberately undermining the federal structure of the Union. These reactions are an open rebellion of elected state governments against the Union government, which is the first time this has happened in the republic since 1947, highlighting the deep divergence between the Union government and non-BJP ruled states, even as enormous time and money is wasted over the issue which was not needed in the first place. The government cannot absolve itself of responsibility in the damage to the nation.
The Tamilnadu BJP unit president Tamilisai Soundararajan lost no time in accusing through a tweet the demand for Dravidnadu as a secession demand, and though this is a immature and rather sportive tit for tat demand, one will have to concede that this is an understandable natural response of people fed up with the trampling of constitutional guarantees and rights by the Union government and by extra-constitutional groups. The last three years have seen the steady assault on various Constitutional guarantees including the right to expression, religious freedom and social freedom, resulting in violence and murder. Such disruption is usually caused by extra-constitutional groups patronized by the ruling dispensation, which, strive to enforce the government’s unconstitutional diktats through violence and intimidation. Yet, the fact remains that there is only so much of violation that people will tolerate because they forwent their historical autonomy in exchange for preservation of their historical liberty, fraternity and equality, including the liberty to eat what they want, to form a new nation. Without guarantees that would ensure these, no British-era province, subsequently broken up into states, through their representatives in the Constituent assembly, would have been signatories to the Constitution and become a part of the Union.
The diktats and their fallout have also become a constant nuisance to law and order and development in most states, making governance problematic. The federal structure requires a concerted effort by the Union and state governments to develop individual states, but this cannot happen when the state and the centre are at constant conflict with each other. In the process, there is also a criminal waste of focus, energies and resources of the state governments unproductively utilized to deal with the disturbances and the people’s backlash to the diktats.
In effect, through its actions, rather than making efforts to strengthen the federation of states and promote their development and growth by sticking to the Constitution, the Union government is only sowing the seeds for all kinds of disturbing responses from the people and the states governments because of its unconstitutional diktats. If the Union government truly believes in the idea of India, and believes in preserving the existing federation of states, there has to be a full-stop to the concerted attacks on the Constitution around which the states are held together to function as a nation. The Union government should also cease attempting to impose Hindutva on a population where a majority of it is not Hindu. The claim of the right wing that India is predominantly a non-beef eating Hindu nation by religion is a hoax.
Ever since elections were initiated by British rulers, the SCs and STs, who account for 24.2% of the total population, were nominally co-opted by the caste fraternity into Hindu religion to gain the advantage of numbers in the democratic political setup. Inversely, the religious fact is that these people are not initiated into the religion, while Manusmriti categorically emphasizes their religious exclusion. Add to the numbers of such people the Muslim and Christian beef eaters, along with those within the Hindu faith who relish the meat and you have a situation where the preferences specific to little over one half of the population is being imposed on the other half. This simply cannot be expected to happen anywhere in the world without serious consequences as it is a deeply discriminatory and violating imposition. There is no collective good in making India a Hindurashtra. There is a future for the nation only in strengthening the 1950 Constitution, not undermining it. Alternately, it would be a case of playing with fire and expecting not to get burnt by it!
The author is editor of Dalit Post and an award winning author.