The firebrand Chief minister of Assam has been reining in extremist elements in the state for the last few years, first as Finance minister of Assam and now as the new Chief Minister. He is also cementing his connection with the Hindu vote base and a recent bill approved by the cabinet bears yet another testament to that. The new bill tabled in the Assam Legislative Assembly aims to protect cattle in Assam. If passed, no sale or purchase of beef shall take place in a radius of 5 kilometres from Hindu, Jain or Sikh Temples.
If passed, the Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021, shall regulate the slaughter, consumption and illegal transportation of cattle in Assam. The Assam Cattle Preservation Act 1950 failed to ensure these regulations as it did not have legal provisions to do so. This was earlier talked about by CM Himanta Biswa Sarma himself.
The proposed legislation has been in inception for a few weeks now. Himanta Biswa Sarma had earlier said that the legislation would ban the movement of cattle from Assam and will check smuggling to Bangladesh, which is a rampant issue in the northeast. The Chief Minister was also very clear that beef should not be consumed in areas where Hindus live and where the cow is worshipped.
Hindus, Sikhs and Jains are non-beef eating communities and revere cattle, especially cows, the slaughter of which is banned in most states. But the illegal slaughter and smuggling persist, which hurts the sentiments of these communities.
It is to be noted, however, that under this bill, specific areas will be excluded and not all, that is, the ban proposed on the sale and purchase of beef in Assam is not a blanket ban. Instead, it has kept in mind the diverse communities that live in and around Assam, which includes certain tribal communities.
However, Congress and the AIUDF in Assam have attacked this legislation. Aminul Islam, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), said, “This is not a Bill to protect cows or even respect cows. This has been brought to hurt the sentiments of the Muslims and polarise communities further. We oppose it and will try and bring in amendment resolutions.” Meanwhile, Congress claimed that the bill had problematic areas and may seek amendments to the bill.
The Chief Minister of neighbouring state Meghalaya, Conrad Sangma, has also expressed concern about this bill. “We will raise the issue not only with the Assam government but also the Centre if the law affects transit of cattle to Meghalaya from other States,” CM Conrad Sangma has said. Meghalaya is nearly 75% Christian. The Conrad Sangma-led government is part of the Northeastern Democratic Alliance (NEDA) with the BJP, which was helped form by the new Assam Chief Minister himself. Meghalaya government has also discussed the new legislation with cattle-supplying States like Bihar, Telangana and West Bengal.
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, despite the opposition, is expected to sail through with this legislation with ease. With tremendous support from the people, he has been able to discuss population control with Muslim intellectuals and garnered their support as well as he sought to empower Muslims, especially Muslim women. Sarma has been addressing difficult issues closely entwined with religious sensitivities and so far is he is pushing on boldly, with the mandate of the Assamese people.