India is undergoing some domestic political turmoil over the issue of consumption of beef and meat.
It is motivated by religious sentiments that have been stoked, emboldened, exploited and overtly politicized by various politicians for getting votes and political power.
This politics has now come to West Bengal as the ruling Trinamool Congress’ main challenger in the upcoming state assembly elections of May to June 2016 is the BJP, which is already raising questions over the slaughter houses in Kolkata.
Even though West Bengal is one of the few Indian states that does not prevent cow slaughter its ruling party seems intent to cater to this religious vote bank by informing Bhutan that it will ban beef exports into Bhutan from Jaigaon.
This is definitely bad news for a country that is South Asia’s highest per capita consumer of meat and imported 10,336 metric tons of meat in 2014 of which more than half was beef. It is also bad news for a country whose main preferred source of protein is beef.
However, to everyone’s surprise there was an overwhelming degree of social media support by some Bhutanese citizens for West Bengal’s move in the Facebook comments section of the story on the proposed ban done by this paper.
It is this development more than anything else that should draw our attention to a growing trend of the rise of a right wing vegetarian movement in Bhutan and its implications.
If we look at the vegetarian movement from the modern perspective of animal rights, prevention of animal cruelty and a healthier lifestyle, then it is fine. In fact many of those advocating vegetarianism are young, balanced and well educated citizens who know what they talking about both medically and environmentally.
Even the traditional Buddhist reproach towards eating meat advocated mainly by the older generation is also fine. This is something that most of us have grown up with family members talking about the ‘sins’ of eating meat.
However, the main problem is the use of this legitimate vegetarian movement by some elements to make it an overtly political and religious one. One big victory for them has been the government having to scale down its meat self sufficiency plans. This is even though it will have a long term impact on a primarily meat eating country’s food self sufficiency plans.
There is also an increasing trend to demonize and attack individuals and institutions on religious grounds for supporting consumption of meat.
This vegetarian movement is also being used by figures in the religious establishment to try and interfere in politics.
The ban of export of any major food item by any country to Bhutan is a food sovereignty issue for Bhutan given that we are a landlocked issue. Instead of being alarmed by this development a few people in the vegetarian movement want West Bengal to ban all meat items.
In all of the above it is important to remember three things for the sake of Bhutan. First is that we can’t afford have elections fought over religious and sentimental issues. Secondly, it is easier for any foreign power to manipulate a country with irrational internal divisions. Thirdly, the failure to achieve food self sufficiency will make Bhutan constantly dependant on its neighbors which in turn has political implications for our sovereignty.