By Arab News
By S. N. M Abdi
What transpires between a diplomat posted abroad and politicians of the host country is usually kept under wraps. But India’s Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, who enjoys the distinction of being appointed acting premier whenever Prime Minister Narendra Modi is away, recently went public with what one of the most important envoys stationed in New Delhi told him.
Addressing a public meeting in his parliamentary constituency, Lucknow, Singh triumphantly said: “The High Commissioner of Bangladesh, Shri Muazzem Ali, has told me that the rate of cow meat has shot through the roof in his country.” Singh was bursting with pride when he made the disclosure. His mood was so self-congratulatory that if he could, he would have literally patted himself on the back.
According to media reports, after publicizing Ali’s concern about rising beef prices in Bangladesh, Singh complimented the Border Security Force (BSF), which is directly under the Home Minister, for clamping down on the traditional export of Indian cattle to Bangladesh. Singh revealed that only 200,000-250,000 Indian cattle entered Bangladesh in 2015 compared to 20-22 lakh annually in previous years, resulting in the sharp hike in beef prices across the border.
Singh is evidently determined to extend the Bharatiya Janata Party’s controversial beef banning drive to Bangladesh. But the Hindutva-driven campaign is fanning anti-India sentiments in an otherwise friendly neighbor ever since Singh — a former BJP president — decided to stop India’s surplus, non-milk producing cattle from going to Bangladesh, halting a $1 billion-a-year informal trade determined by supply and demand that had been going on for as long as anyone can remember.
Not surprisingly, the BJP’s cow obsession cast a shadow over the two-day meeting between Rajiv Mehrishi and Mozammel Haque Khan, home secretaries of India and Bangladesh respectively, held in Dhaka last month. More time and energy was expended on dissecting the BSF crackdown on the cattle trade than on issues like sharing intelligence on militancy, illegal infiltration and influx of fake currency notes, which were given top priority earlier.
An Indian Express story on the home secretaries’ talks quoted an Indian official saying that the “principal issue raised by an alarmed Bangladesh was the BSF crackdown that has reduced cattle supplies by 70 percent, hiking the price of beef manifold and having a crippling effect on their beef industry”.
Until Singh’s Hindutva-fueled clampdown, three out of four cows slaughtered in Bangladesh were from India because there were no restrictions on sending surplus, non-milk producing cattle across the 4,000-km border separating the two countries.
The BJP government’s pro-cow and anti-beef agenda is rooted in Narendra Modi’s Aug. 9, 2012 “pink revolution” remarks on his website. Subsequently on Sept. 10, 2013, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat made protection of cows, construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, introduction of Uniform Civil Code and abolition of Article 370 preconditions for backing Modi’s prime ministerial bid. And true enough, the BJP 2014 Poll Manifesto stated on page 41 that its government would “protect and promote cow and its progeny.”
But the cattle blockade is wreaking havoc in Bangladesh. The cattle crisis was the subject of a three-part series titled “Loss on Both Sides” published in The Daily Star, Dhaka’s leading English daily, reflecting the outrage over Indian arbitrariness.
HT Imam, a political adviser to Bangladesh’s pro-India Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said on record that “there is absolutely no doubt” that the beef trade and leather industry are reeling as a result of India’s clampdown. Bangladesh’s beef processing units, slaughterhouses, tanneries and bone crushing factories have traditionally relied on Indian cattle.
Syed Hasan Habib of Bengal Meat, Bangladesh’s top meat exporter, also told Reuters that he had to cut international orders by 75 percent. Before the clampdown, he exported 125 tons of beef annually to Gulf nations. Echoing Habib, Bangladesh Tanners Association president, Shaheen Ahmed told the news agency that of 30 of 190 tanneries had suspended work due to shortage of hides, rendering 4000 jobless.
According to a study published in The Times of India, the Modi-Singh government will have to spend over Rs31,000 crores annually on feeding and sheltering India’s surplus, non-milk producing cows if BSF permanently stops all cattle supplies to Bangladesh.
Obviously, ordinary taxpayers will have to bear the burden of India’s new cow policies. Hence a public debate is necessary to arrive at what’s good for the common man. A rethink is absolutely necessary not only because of economics but because trouble-free relations with Bangladesh is vital for our national security and ensuring India’s pre-eminence in its zone of influence.