ITANAGAR: The debate arising from the Centre’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules, 2017 notification continues to dominate public discourse and is having a visible impact on the politics in the Northeast.

The notification prohibiting the sale of cattle in markets for the purpose of slaughter was met with protests in some circles and created an uproar in Kerala where ‘beef feasts’ where organised to snub the BJP government’s move. Although the notification does not prohibit the sale, slaughter or consumption of beef, it does make it difficult to acquire the meat.

The central government maintains that the notification is meant to curb smuggling of cattle across Bangladesh and Nepal but the BJP is having a hard time making its case to party members and partners in the Northeast.

Last week in Meghalaya, the BJP’s West Garo Hills district president, Bernard Rimpu Marak, resigned from the party after he was allegedly not allowed to organise a ‘beef party’. Following his resignation, North Garo Hills district president, Bachu Marak, also quit the party stating that he cannot compromise on the sentiments of the Garo people.

Both the Maraks are members of the Garo tribe of Meghalaya where beef is freely available.

Speaking to The Citizen, Marak said that party functionaries were told to celebrate Narendra Modi’s government completing three years in the Centre. He said he wanted to allay fears among the Garos that the BJP government will ban the sale of beef.

“I wanted to clarify and clear doubts by organising a small programme and serve bitchi (local rice brew) and beef,” he said.

However, his idea was allegedly shot down by the party’s Meghalaya in-charge, Nalin Kohli.

“It was bluntly disapproved by Kohli although the state unit did not say anything,” he claimed.

Marak claimed that Kohli told him that “out of 11,000 BJP workers in the state, 10,000 do not eat beef”.

“I am not talking about just the members of the BJP. We are talking about lakhs of people in our areas,” he said.

He said that he quit the BJP because he did not want to be part of “a party that is going against our interests” and that he and Bachu want to “promote our culture”.

He also said that while “beef” has not been mentioned in the notification, the Centre has worded the Act “cleverly”.

“Beef is not mentioned but where will the beef come from,” he asked.

Marak claimed that all five district presidents in the Garo Hills have resigned over the issue but that not everyone has taken to the media “because they are not so vocal”.

Kohli on his part had accused both the Maraks of “actively working” to sabotage the BJP’s 2018 assembly election prospects. The party does not currently have an MLA in the state assembly.

While Bernard Marak has resigned from his post, Bachu had dissolved the district unit. Marak said that they “were the strength of the BJP in the Garo Hills” but that he has decided not to join any political party as yet.

By Tuesday, the Meghalaya BJP unit had reshuffled its committees in Garo Hills, saying that it was “normal procedure” prior to the elections.

In other states of the region too, the decision has not gone down too well with both the opposition and the BJP itself.

In Arunachal Pradesh where the BJP is in power, Chief Minister Pema Khandu has said that the Centre will hold consultations on the matter and in a recent television interview admitted that he does eat beef.

The National People’s Party (NPP) president and MP from Tura in Meghalaya, Conrad Sangma, has voiced his concerns over the issue as well. Incidentally, the NPP is a partner in the BJP government in Manipur.

Manipur’s Chief Minister, Biren Singh, has reportedly said that the Centre is “only trying to regulate the beef industry to avoid illegal slaughter for hygiene purposes” and that the party “will not violate people’s right to eat what they have been eating traditionally for many years”.

Manipur’s Deputy Chief Minister, Yumnam Joykumar Singh, of the NPP said that the party does not support any ban on beef and that the notification itself will not affect the region because “we are not importing from other states”.

While he said that the notification will not have any impact on its alliance in Manipur, the former Director General of Police added that the party will not insist on its implementation.

In Nagaland, where the Naga People’s Front is in power and is in coalition with the BJP in the state assembly, the government has already said that a ban on the meat will not work in the state.

Sebastian Zumvu, press secretary to the Nagaland chief minister, said that such rules are “not viable in the region whether the BJP is in power or in alliance with the government”. He also said that the notification will not affect the NPF’s partnership with the BJP.

“No matter what Delhi or UP says, local sentiments have to be taken into consideration,” he adds.