Dear Narendra Modi,
You swept to victory in the Uttar Pradesh election promising good governance and economic progress for all — “sabka saath, sabka vikas.” But Chief Minister Adityanath’s first act was to crack down on abattoirs and meat processors. Some analysts thought he was acting on his own. But last week, four more BJP state governments announced a similar crackdown.
Cow protection and closure of illegal abattoirs was part of the BJP electoral platform. But legal enterprises have been closed along with illegal ones. Many meat shops have been burned, reviving memories of the anti-beef killings of 2015.
The meat industry has gone on strike to protest arbitrary closures and non-renewal of licences. The consequent meat and leather shortage has hit consumers, industries and jobs.
In one sense, closing illegal units is good governance. Yet millions of hawkers make a living by illegally occupying pavements and paying no taxes. Millions of enterprises flout dozens of rules. Millions of squatters illegally invade cities.
The answer cannot be to shut down everything and expel everybody. We need a gradual formalisation of millions of informal enterprises, plus tough administration for big rule breakers.
By targeting abattoirs and meat processors, you effectively target the two groups associated with this trade, Muslims and Dalits — the very opposite of “sabka saath, sabka vikas.”
I dislike BSP’s Yakub Qureshi, who once offered a Rs 51-crore reward for the murder of a Danish cartoonist poking fun at the Prophet. Yet I am dismayed when he and Shahid Akhlaq, another politician, say their legal abattoirs were shut down. Qureshi said: “We have no problem if illegal slaughterhouses are closed down. They should be. But our slaughterhouse was legal.”
Officials cite the lack of various clearances and documents. Surely many enterprises are non-compliant. But that is commonplace in enterprises of every kind, not just the meat industry. The aim must be to formalise, legalise and expand all informal enterprises, including those in the meat industry.
UP accounts for over half of India’s $5 billion worth of buffalo meat exports. This provides not just foreign exchange but lakhs of jobs, mainly for the two neediest groups.
Moreover, a mass closure of abattoirs means a fall in the price of livestock, hitting millions of farmers. It has downstream effects on the leather industry, one of UP’s (and India’s) biggest, most labour-intensive industries.
I fully support your move to gradually formalise the entire economy, including abattoirs. But this is necessarily a gradual process, with relief and rehabilitation if masses of people are affected. Squatters in cities are offered new plots in the city periphery. Evicted roadside hawkers get alternative sites. What are you offering those hit by the anti-slaughter campaign?
Your plan for goshalas for aged cattle will be very costly. State finances have already been hit by your farm loan waiver (this may cost Rs 27,000 crore). You should restrict the waiver to co-op loans. If indeed you expand goshalas hugely, kindly give top priority in employment to those whom you have displaced, whatever their religion or caste.
If you treat mass closures of abattoirs as a moral Hindu crusade, your political future is less assured than you think. One reason for your Bihar debacle was the beef-eating controversy, which put off not only Muslims and Dalits but secular Hindus dismayed by your shift from “vikas” to Hindutva.
Despite your UP victory, electoral numbers show you are vulnerable to a maha-gathbandhan (united opposition), and to a modest shift in the popular vote. The more you portray aggressive Hindutva, the more you drive away voters in the middle.
Rather than shut the meat and leather industries, you should aim to legalise and expand them subject to good health and environmental regulations, creating a world-class industry that doubles in five years.
Buffalo rearing offers great scope for raising farm incomes. Adityanath’s offer to talk to the meat industry should be the starting point of this. I hope this isn’t insanely optimistic.
As a non-partisan analyst, I predicted your parliamentary victory in 2014, your Bihar defeat in 2015, and your recent victory in UP. If your anti-beef movement cripples the meat and leather industries, I predict you will not only impoverish lakhs but alienate centrist voters and fuel an anti-BJP front.