With New Cattle Rules, BJP Hopes to Retain Voter Base in 2019 Poll
The Modi government’s recent diktat on cattle slaughter and sale of animals has caused a flutter across the country. States such as West Bengal and Kerala, which have high beef-eating populations, are opposing the ban. Even Manipur, where the BJP recently formed the government, has opposed the move. The Madras High Court on 30 May stayed the Centre’s ban on cow slaughter.
The cow is considered sacred in Hindu culture owing to its utility in ways more than one. This is why Hindus in India generally do not eat beef. Since the BJP assumed power at the Centre there have been frequent reports of gau rakshaks taking the law into their hands.
Of the 8.35 crore Indians who eat beef, 85 percent are Muslims and Christians and 15 percent are Hindus. Overall, 42 percent Muslims, 27 percent Christians and less than 2 percent Hindus eat beef.
On an average 7.5 percent of Indians eat beef. In most Indian states, there are regulations prohibiting slaughter and/or sale of cows. Only in Kerala, West Bengal and Northeastern states such act is legal and there are no restrictions.
Politics of Beef
For a clearer understanding of the notification, we can look at the BJP’s performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and its performance in states where people do and do not consume beef. The states can be broadly bifurcated into two categories:
(i) less/moderate beef-eating (<10 percent) and
(ii) high beef-eating (>10 percent) regions.
Less/moderate beef-consuming states account for 444 of the 543 total Lok Sabha seats. High beef-consuming states account for 99 seats only. The BJP won 59 percent seats in less/moderate beef consuming states (262) and only 20 percent in high beef consuming states (20).
BJP’s Strategy Behind Cow Slaughter Ban
One might wonder what the BJP is hoping to achieve with this new notification on cattle trade when most of the states have such rules in place. Well, 2019 is not far off. To win, the BJP needs to adopt a two-point strategy:
(i) Focus on current performance
(ii) Expand in new greenfield states
The BJP won 194/282 seats from just six states – UP, Bihar, MP, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. In some of these states, the BJP bagged more than 80 percent seats.
While repeating this stupendous performance in 2019 would be difficult, the BJP is betting on raking up the emotional issue of cow which might help it retain its majority in Parliament.
Consolidating Hindu Vote Bank
Most states (except Tamil Nadu and Odisha) where the BJP needs to expand its base are high beef-eating regions where the BJP has been traditionally weak. Since these states account for fewer seats, the BJP could risk alienating the voters there in its bid for victory.
The BJP has been exercising the ploy of exclusionary politics for some time now where it has distinguished itself from other parties that take the route of so-called minority appeasement. It also has been acting miserly in giving tickets to Muslims.
Such a strategy helps in consolidating the Hindu vote bank for the party and meander through caste equations. In UP, this strategy worked very well with people across caste groups voting for the BJP.
Research has shown that polarisation has worked in favour of the BJP. Through this strategy the BJP hopes to consolidate the Hindu vote bank in high beef-consuming states such as West Bengal and Kerala in particular and, thus, the party aims to make inroads into non-BJP states. A few seats in these two states would be a bonus for the party.
Drawing Ire in the Northeast
The BJP has big plans for the Northeast where it is already in power in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. The party has given a call that it would dislodge the Left Front government in Tripura next year. A significant number of people in these states eat beef.
Many state BJP chiefs have made statements in the recent past saying that the party won’t implement a beef ban if it comes to power in the Northeastern states. The BJP may need to tweak its strategy or dilute its ban order on cattle slaughter.
Dalit Outreach in Jeopardy
Among Hindus, the SCs and the STs account for 70 percent of beef-eaters. These communities have been at odds with the BJP after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Gau rakshaks, Rohith Vemula’s suicide and the Rajasthan and Jharkhand lynchings have created a perception of mistrust and helped the Opposition to brand the BJP as anti-Dalit. The ban could further distance the Dalits from the BJP.
The beef ban clearly has political overtones. The party intends to consolidate Hindu vote bank in states where it performed very well in 2014. Through this strategy, the party also intends to make inroads in high consumption states by consolidating Hindu non-beef eaters.
Since non-beef eaters comprise the majority, the BJP is likely to gain from this exercise, though it should be prepared for a backlash from the Dalits and Northeastern population.
(Amitabh Tiwari is a corporate & investment banker turned political commentator, strategist and consultant. Views are personal. He can be reached @politicalbaaba).