The political parties of Jammu and Kashmir remain divided on the issue of the beef ban that the Jammu and Kashmir High Court ordered to be enforced ahead of the Eid ul Azha next week. People are vehemently opposing the ban by slaughtering bovine animals, observing a shutdown on last Saturday, amidst continuing protests. The controversy has put the ruling People’s Democratic Party, which mainly represents Muslims, on the backfoot, as none other than its coalition partner, Bharatiya Janata Party, supports the ban.

The slaughter of bovine animals and sale and purchase of beef is a punishable offence in the state under the provisions of sections 298-A, 298-B, 298-C and 298-D of Ranbir Penal Code. On September 16, the High Court issued a notice to the Mufti Mohammad Sayed-led government, in response to a writ petition filed by a former law professor Sayed Afzal Qadri, challenging the constitutional validity of the ban. The state government was asked to submit a response within one week.

United opposition

The Congress is against the beef ban and is ready to support scrapping of the law. Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, noting that the decision had left people of the state angry, noted that it had become a very sensitive issue for the whole country,  especially for Kashmir.  He added that his party would be open to bring a bill or support anyone else seeking  amendments in the law during the autumn session of the state assembly starting from October 3.

The main opposition, the National Conference has already submitted a bill in the assembly for making amendments in the relevant sections that impose a ban on beef. “We are hopeful that this bill will be supported by the members of ruling coalition and other members,” Ali Mohammad Sagar, the party general secretary, told The Indian Express.

Another similar bill was also submitted by independent legislator Engineer Rashid, who said the ban was anti-Muslim. But the Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress president Ghulam Ahmad Mir rightly pointed out that the bill could not be passed without the legislators of the ruling parties, the BJP and the PDP, supporting it.

Divided government

The ruling party, PDP,  on the other hand, has been saying that the ban should not be taken seriously. The Member of Parliament and senior party leader Tariq Hameed Karra observed that the recent directive of the Supreme Court that “the meat ban can’t be forced down someone’s throat” has paved the way for scrapping the law in the state.

“The anti-beef sections of RPC have been enacted in 1932 by the then autocratic ruler of the State and have absolutely no relevance in today’s democratic setup,” Karra said in a statement. “All the regional political parties in the State should take a stand on the issue and get these provisions of RPC scrapped through legislation in the upcoming session of the State legislature. These sections have to go and should go, sooner the better.”

Earlier the PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti also said the court’s decision would not change the government’s policy. “The government has not used any force to implement the ban and there won’t be any major change in the government policy vis-à-vis slaughtering of bovine animals and sale of beef,” Mufti told a local news agency. “The ban on beef has not only been imposed in Jammu and Kashmir but is in force in three other states of the country as well," she added. "However, wherever the ban was imposed, authorities were forced to revoke it and allow the practice of slaughtering of bovine animals and sale of beef as usual.”

With such views, it seems the ruling PDP too has decided to toe the opposition line but seems confused in taking any concrete decision. However, since the PDP heads the coalition government, it has become hard for it to support the National Conference's bill in the assembly. Their coalition partner BJP,  however, continues to support the ban both within and from outside.

Last week, the BJP clearly stated that the party wanted to honour the court ordered ban. “Any move to lift it will be opposed vigorously as the issue is directly related to the religious sentiments of the Hindu community,” Balbir Ram Rattan, the BJP state spokesperson, told the Press Trust of India.

Threats of a blockade

Meanwhile, in response to this debate, the Vishva Hindu Parishad has threatened to launch an agitation and force people of Kashmir to starve by enforcing an economic blockade similar to that of 2008, if the assembly allowed any such discussion about removing the court-ordered ban.

“We warn the state government that Jammu would observe a black day and the people of the region would be forced to take to the streets if the Assembly Speaker allowed a discussion on an anti-beef ban bill,” Leela Karan Sharma, president of the VHP’s state unit told reporters on Friday.

“The people of Jammu would not tolerate it. The government will have to face consequences. Nobody should be allowed to play with the sentiments of over one billion Hindus across the globe,” Sharma warned.