Milking the Cow

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A week after the High Court upheld a century old ban on the cow slaughter in J&K, the politics over the beef is taking over the initial public outrage over the court order. The Valley has already witnessed the protests, shutdown and the cow slaughters over the issue. But now with Eid-ul-Azha and the Assembly session coming up, the politics is fast catching up. The opposition National Conference has asked the state government to urgently issue an ordinance to decriminalize the cow slaughter before Eid. The party has also decided to bring in a bill in the forthcoming Assembly session to seek the change in the anti-beef law. The leader of the Awami Itihad Party Engineer Abdur Rashid has already moved a bill in this regard. What is more, Congress has promised its support for the bill in the Assembly.

This has created an interesting scenario. If such a bill is tabled in the Assembly how will PDP-BJP coalition deal with it? Or for that matter how will PDP grapple with such a prospect. There is so far no clarity on the issue. However, as things stand, PDP is unlikely to go along with such a bill without creating serious trouble in its alliance with BJP. But then PDP can’t even afford to vote for the bill – albeit some of its members have said that individually they will support it. It will, however, be easy for BJP to oppose the bill, identify as the party does itself with a largely Hindu support base.

But if we go by the numbers, the BJP’s opposition will hardly make any difference. Bill can still pass if PDP deprived of an option to oppose decides to abstain from the voting. The big question, however, is whether the bill will come up for vote at all?

One is reminded of the fate of the resolution seeking clemency for Afzal Guru which was moved in the state legislature in October 2011. Both PDP and NC had publicly backed the resolution but ensured it didn’t pass in the Assembly. Both parties sat calmly through the feigned ruckus created by Congress over a needless issue till the time to table the resolution passed. Both Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti didn’t utter a word in the house but once outside both put a convenient political spin on their silence.

But the issue now is not as sensitive. It is the question of the right of the seventy percent population of the state to eat the food they would like to eat. It is about the right of a community not to be forced to follow the culinary practices of the other community. It is about the freedom of choice. It is about the freedom of religion.

Now, will our political parties who claim to represent us in the Assembly step up to the challenge? Will they fulfil the onerous responsibility of truly articulating our grievances and redressing them through the change in an old, regressive legislation? Will they for once prove, loudly and clearly, that the politics and the democracy in J&K is not always remote-controlled by the centre? And that they do exercise some power after all?  It is answers to these questions that people will be looking forward to when, and if at all, the bill to amend the anti-beef law comes up for vote in the upcoming Assembly session.

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