In the aftermath of the Lok Sabha Elections, we had asserted that the results marked the dawn of religious politics in West Bengal and that going forward, the results will be determined by the extent of religious polarisation among the electorate.
As a sign of the times, a beef festival that was supposed to be organised in Kolkata has now been cancelled after the organizers claimed they received threats from people and they believe they cannot ensure the safety of the attendees. They said, “If any one person is harmed, we would feel personally responsible, and we can not accept that.”
The organisers also said that the event was entirely apolitical. Considering the timing of the event, one finds it hard to believe but in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we ought to believe their version of events. According to Arjun Kar, one of the organizers, as reported by News18, they are “young chaps who just want to enjoy a night of fun and frolic”.
The menu for the ‘Kolkata Beef Festival’, which was eventually changed to ‘Kolkata Beep Festival’ after protests on social media, included some pork dishes as well. As per information received by OpIndia.com from sources, the menu initially did not include pork when the event was first announced, and it was added later on after Hindus registered their disagreement on social media.
While the organisers claim that the event was not politically motivated, it remains a fact that it got political as soon as it was announced. The name angered a great many Hindus and they registered their disagreement on Facebook. In turn, liberals rallied to the organisers’ defence and the matter only escalated further. Therefore, while the organisers may claim that the event was not motivated by politics, it was destined to take a political turn given the circumstances.
Arjun Kar further claimed they started receiving threats mostly from people who are not based in West Bengal. His claims appear to be motivated by his personal biases as an OpIndia.com reporter observed a great many Bengalis angered by the festival as well which they perceived to be an affront to their religious sensibilities.
“I never knew beef was this big a deal, in Kolkata at least,” Kar further stated. Perhaps, it had been the case but certainly no longer. Quite evidently, Bengali Hindus were greatly displeased with the celebration involving beef as well. And as anyone aware of Bengali culture would be aware, consuming beef is frowned upon greatly by the masses. There was also the impression that the very objective of the event, from the very beginning, was to hurt religious sentiments.
A Bengali youth OpIndia.com talked to said, “I personally am a very business minded individual but that was deliberately done to insult the religious sentiments of people. Why a beef ‘festival’ when it is considered as a sacred animal by so many people?”
Another Bengali youth based in Kolkata said, “I come from a Hindu household and fairly liberal as well. As someone from Bengal and resident of Kolkata, I have never raised questions over food preferences of anyone, after all, we are a diverse country. Unfortunately, the way this beef festival was organised showed that it was clearly an aim to insult the growing influence of the right wing in Bengal and at the same time with the malicious intent of insulting Hindu sentiments. This was further proven by the organiser’s comments, actions and views. It’s infuriating to see how far people go to show that they are liberals and vindicate everyone else who speak against them.”
A student, a Bengali again, who wasn’t aware of the nitty-gritty details of the particular incident due to personal commitments, told OpIndia.com that he was averse to ‘festivals’ involving beef as well. “I think the event was of political nature. It appears to me that beef which has sacred religious connotations in India’s cultural history and society was used as a prop for a mass event. It does leave a lot of room for speculations as to its real intention given the nature of the political and cultural situation in Bengal right now.”
OpIndia.com was told by sources that the organisers too made communally charged comments, as did their supporters. We could not independently verify whether the organizers did make such comments as Arjun Kar has apparently deactivated his Facebook profile. However, their supporters did brand those opposing the festival as ‘fascists’ and ‘communal bigots’ and make other insensitive remarks.
It’s a significant change from how things were a few years ago. In 2015, prominent CPI(M) leader Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya had participated in a beef festival organised in Kolkata in protest against a beef ban in some state. Even then, Left leaders had criticized Bhattacharya’s actions and said it would hurt the sentiments of certain sections of society.
This time around, Bhattacharya was the party candidate from Jadavpur. CPI(M)’s vote-share dropped by 15.04% while the BJP managed to increase its own by 15.15% in the seat which was won by Trinamool with over 47% vote-share.
One thing appears certain, however, that there’s a growing section of Bengalis who are proud of their Hindu identity and do not take kindly to such celebration of the consumption of beef. Liberal Bengalis may disagree and attempt to brand every critic of theirs as an outsider but unfortunately for them, quite evidently, that’s not the case.
Intriguingly, it’s the Bengali youth which appears more vociferous than ever in such matters. Political polarisation has occurred within the youth as well, as is quite evident from the Bengali youth OpIndia.com has talked to. As we have noted earlier, the youth of Bengal campaigned heavily for the success of the BJP in 2019 and slogans such as ‘Mandir Wahi Banayengey’ and ‘Har Ghar Bhagwa Chhayega’ have become extremely popular among the Bengali youth.
Kolkata has largely been considered a liberal hub by the intellectuals of the country. They were too blind to see the undercurrents that were flowing beneath the surface but finally, it appears to have broken into the public consciousness. Without going into the morality of the cancellation of the beef festival through alleged intimidation and threats, it can be safely said that Kolkata is at the heart of the Cultural Revolution that has gripped the country.