The saffron surge in West Bengal marked the Dawn of Religious Politics in the state. While the fate of parties in the state hitherto had been determined by political ideologies, going forward, it would be determined by the extent of religious polarization among the electorate.
With religious polarization came the politics of beef which until now had been largely restricted to North India and states such as Maharashtra. However, Kolkata became the Ground Zero for it when a beef festival was announced in the city. It was eventually cancelled after the organizers claimed to have received threats online and via calls.
The cancellation appeared to be the end of it. However, it seems it was merely the beginning of the next chapter in the story. Another event has been proposed which is slated to occur in September this year. It’s unclear how authentic it is as the organizers appear to be anonymous and not much detail has been provided.
In the description of the event ‘Kolkata Beef And Pork Festival’ on Facebook, the proposed date is 15th of September and it’s being hosted by a page called ‘Progressive Human’. The authenticity of the page is questionable as it appears to have been created very recently and had only 235 likes at the time of writing this report.
However, a lot of people appear to be taking this seriously as around a thousand people have marked themselves as attending this event while close to four thousand people said they were interested. The proposed venue for the first was Kolkata but the organizers say “We are planning to do the same event in each and every district in Bengal.”
While the organizers of the initial festival could legitimately argue that the motivations of the festival was not political, the organizers of this one quite clearly cannot make that claim. It is also interesting to note that it’s no longer just a Beef festival but a Pork festival as well.
The discussions on the event also prove that it’s extremely political.
While the overwhelming majority of the comments were by people who saw the event as means to fight fascism, there were one or two throwing abuses at the organizers and others politely asking people to desist from celebrating the consumption of beef. Even polite requests to cancel the event are being greeted with expletives and abuses.
If anyone was under the impression that only non-Bengalis were opposing the event, they are quite wrong. Bengalis too have expressed their resentment against the ‘festival’. Incidentally, they too were the subject of abject mockery and abuses by fellow Bengalis.
Others have criticized the initiative as well deeming it frivolous. The organizers were requested by one individual to not do anything that might vitiate communal harmony in the state and opined that “A festival is only successful when the whole community is involved.” He also advised them to take proper measures to make it happen. But that was after calling educated and well off people the “scum of society” and a shame.
In the post where the announcement of the cancellation of the initial event was made, the politicization of beef became quite apparent. Those who opposed the event were called terrorists and ‘chaddis’, references to GauMutra were bandied about. Some others expressed rather ‘problematic’ sentiments to put it mildly with one user saying that it was time to establish a “Muslim state”.
Meanwhile, a certain BJYM college outreach representative at BJYM claims that the event was cancelled due to the involvement of BJP and VHP leaders, something that one of the organizers hinted at as well. But Kalicharan Shaw, state committee member of BJYM West Bengal told OpIndia.com that the BJP was in no way involved with the cancellation of the event. “Karyakartas are dying everywhere. That is our foremost concern right now,” he said.
Overall, there is a certain celebratory mood in the saffron camp over what is being perceived as their most recent victory. And this Saffron Camp certainly includes a great many Bengali BJP supporters.
There are great ramifications of it for larger Bengal politics as well. It also shows that the liberal Bengali crowd have very little idea about the opinions and sentiments of their own brethren. While beef is available in plenty in Kolkata and violence hasn’t been reported ever in any restaurant that serves beef, people took great offence at the celebration of its consumption.
One Bengali lady summarized it quite eloquently in the cancellation post. She wrote, “Don’t mind anyone. I come from a strictly communist household. Yet if anyone dares to eat beef among us, my parents would go batshit crazy. This is the case in most Bengali households. Most of the people of different religions do not accept the consumption of their forbidden food. If it had been a pork festival another set of people would have threatened you. And this sentiment is being taken advantage of by you-know-whos of the country. And the fact that they stopped you will be a precedent now. Personally, I feel you could have organised a meat festival. Any kind of meat. Bringing out an anti-statement is always not the way to combat I feel.”
In light of these circumstances, one thing is for certain. Beef has been politicized in Kolkata by people who seek to make political statements by celebrating its consumption in festivals. While Bengalis may tolerate the knowledge of people consuming it, they might not tolerate someone celebrating it. And with the saffron surge in Bengal, it appears evident that Bengalis are now much more politically conscious than before. Beefeaters in Kolkata may rue the politicization of it but they have only themselves to blame for it.
They must also introspect on their own conduct. Calling people ‘fascists’ and ‘communal bigots’ merely for opposing the consumption of an animal motivated by their religious beliefs is quite unhelpful. If that criterion were a sufficient condition for being fascist and bigot, nearly every single human across the world can be labelled a fascist. Since we can agree that is evidently not the case, liberals ought to be careful about how they approach such issues.
Demonizing people and abusing them even for making polite requests will only lead to more enmity between people. But then, if liberals were capable of understanding such simple things, they wouldn’t have been so thoroughly rejected in electoral politics.
Bengali Hindus in Kolkata do consider cows sacred and if liberals believed that they would not face any opposition towards a beef festival, they were obviously quite wrong. It’s also the age of religious polarization in the state, therefore, it appears almost natural that a great many Bengali Hindus were positively disgusted with the festival and opposed it.
A great many of these beef eaters appear convinced that Mamata Banerjee and the local police will come to their aid. However, one has to take these assertions with a pinch of salt. The Chief Minister of West Bengal will be fully aware that the ordinary Bengali Hindu is quite averse to the consumption of beef. The BJP’s monumental rise in West Bengal has been entirely fueled by massive Hindu consolidation in its favour. Therefore, will Mamata Banerjee be enthusiastic in her support for Beef Festivals and risk alienating Hindus further? Only time can answer that question but politicians normally desist from hurting the religious sentiments of the electorate.
With the entrance of beef politics in Kolkata, the state of West Bengal resembles the ‘cow-belt’ in terms of its politics. Liberals have been using the term as a pejorative to insult fellow Bengalis and blame them for the rise of the BJP. But there’s nothing essentially derogatory about the term at all. The cow is Sacred, after all. And one thing appears certain, Bengal in general and Kolkata, in particular, is Ground Zero of the Cultural Revolution that is underway across the country.