Amit Shah has said he wants the BJP-led coalition in power in the North East by 2018
As BJP chief Amit Shah on Tuesday unveiled his target to expand the footprint of the north-eastern coalition led by the BJP across the region, a top BJP leader at the same meeting reassured leaders from North Eastern states that the party did not intend to dictate what people should eat. The assurance comes just a day after the NDA government's new tourism minister KJ Alphons called eating beef a matter of choice for Keralites.
NDTV has learnt that concern about the BJP's hard line on cow slaughter had come up at the closed-door meeting of the North-East Democratic Alliance, or NEDA, a coalition formed by the BJP last year with regional political parties from the region. At Tuesday's meeting, BJP president Amit Shah had made it clear that he wanted to see the coalition in power in the region's eight states.
It was during a presentation by Sikkim leaders that the topic came. Sikkim has become the first state in the North East to ban all kinds of cow slaughter with a punishment of minimum two years imprisonment. The delegation from the state where the BJP is part of the ruling alliance Sikkim Democratic Front mentioned the law.
This is when Meghalaya leaders Paul Lyngdoh and MP Conrad Sangma asked for a clarification. They wanted to know if the ban on beef was a matter of policy. Meghalaya is one of the four states in the North Eastern to go to polls within the next year apart from Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. In June, some BJP leaders had also exited the party in Meghalaya blaming the party for not respecting local customs and food habits.
At Tuesday's meeting, NDTV has learnt Himanta Biswa Sarma, a senior BJP leader and NDA convenor, intervened when the question about food habits came up in the presence of BJP president Amit Shah. Mr Sarma is learnt to have told the gathering that the BJP did not want to interfere with the food habit or local customs of people.
He also went on to say that every state was at liberty to draft laws according to local customs and rituals.
"The party completely respects cultural diversity," they were reportedly told. While Amit Shah did not speak on the subject, he apparently went along with that.
In the past when junior home minister Kiren Rijiju who is from Arunachal Pradesh reportedly ticked off a ministerial colleague about his right to eat beef, he had backtrack later, claiming that he was misquoted. Mr Rijiju's remarks were then in response to Minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi's statement that those who eat beef should go to Pakistan.