Goa is run by the BJP. Its Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar, is one of the leading lights of the party. Therefore, Goa, one would imagine, would be the perfect target for the party's overall national objective of making Bharat beef-mukt. Yet, these are the items on offer at a small roadside eatery where I dined with my family last week in a village in north Goa:
Beef Tongue Roast
Beef Tongue Chilly
Beef Roast with Potatoes
Beef Chilly Fry
Beef Green Curry
Beef Jeere Meere"
Even displaying such a list could cause mayhem in Yogi Adityanath's UP or Rupani's Gujarat or Vasundhara Raje's Rajasthan. Yet, such are the dynamics of diversity that the free availability of beef delicacies in Goa is hardly a political hot potato. What is a current political hot potato in the state is the shortage of beef in wholesale markets at the height of the busiest tourist season. It seems the principal cattle slaughterhouse in Goa is closed and there are huge bureaucratic hurdles put in the way of importing beef from other states. Goa's Navhind Times reports the deliciously ironic story that on the 92nd anniversary of the founding of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - no less an occasion - BJP Chief Minister Parrikar, speaking at a school named after RSS founder KB Hedgewar (of all places!) had announced that "nobody (that presumably includes Modi) can stop legal beef trade in the state" and added that "legal trade can continue without difficulty"! So much for gau rakshaks and their breed!
Let no one be misled into believing that this failure to meet the demand for beef in the state is the consequence of an excessively large number of foreign tourists invading the tiny state for its balmy weather, its numerous beaches, its abundantly available alcohol, and its limitless inventiveness with its wide-ranging cuisine, including what can be done with a nice cut of bovine meat. For what all hoteliers, restaurateurs, and massage parlour owners are complaining about is the cumulative decline over the years in the share of foreign tourists in the tourist influx, as desis from every corner of the country head towards the sun and sand and sea of Goa. It is this massive and growing flood of Indian tourists that is demanding beef, and the local restaurants are finding it difficult to keep up with the demand. Also, unsurprisingly, the vast majority of Indian tourists are Hindus, often from the most pious neighbouring BJP states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. Indeed, Muslim tourists appear to be very under-represented, so they can't be responsible for the humungous beef demand.
If then beef is such a popular food item for Indians of all religions in Goa, both visitors and residents, why elsewhere in the country - but only where the BJP is in power - are abattoirs being closed, butchers hounded, transporters assaulted and even killed, and random members of the minority community subjected to frightful assaults and even cold-blooded murder (with bystanders applauding)? The BJP may win elections in Goa by popular pluralities or chicanery - but it dare not touch the diversity of diet that makes "Indian" food such a terminological ambiguity. Our national palate takes in everything from Wazwan in J&K to Sambar-Rasam in the South, and from the mouth-watering Pork delicacies of the North-East to Dhokla in Gujarat. Thus, it is not the political opposition so much as our civilizational celebration of diversity that is undermining the core ideology of the sangh parivar. For a nation built on the dialectic of absorption, assimilation and synthesis, and diversity as the fountain-head of national unity, Hindutva is a culturally unacceptable distortion. So long as Indians exult in Goa and its tempting shacks and dining joints, the Idea of India cannot be defeated.
My second recent encounter with diversity was a visit to Malappuram in Kerala's Malabar region, the only Muslim-majority district in the country outside J&K. My hosts were the Government College at district headquarters. After much to-ing and fro-ing on the mobile, it had been decided that I would be speaking on "Rediscovering Nehru in the 21st Century". As the lecture was organized by the English department of Calicut University (to which the Malappuram Government College is affiliated), I decided to base my lecture on extracts from The Discovery of India to treat the students to both the flavour of Nehru as a litterateur and in educating them in the philosophy of Nehru, the nation-builder.
I walked into the lecture hall packed to overflowing with around 300 students. What astonished me was that 90 percent of the audience were young women students. I asked the principal in a whisper whether this was the Malappuram Government Women's College. Somewhat indignantly, he whispered back, "Not at all, this is a co-educational college", adding that the Government Women's College is a separate institution. "Then where are the boys?" I asked, intrigued. "Oh, the bright ones are all girls," he replied.
And, boy, was he right! As I don't speak Malayalam, I began by enquiring whether I should ask for a translator (as I usually do on my increasingly frequent visits to Malabar - more often than not at the invitation of the Indian Union Muslim League). Not at all, they chorused back, all of us know English. And over the next 90 minutes, they patiently listened to all I had to say, absorbing my words and Nehru's thoughts through the pores of their minds and souls, taking it all in - but not mindlessly, for some of it they readily accepted, but a quite a lot of it they questioned. As one who in recent years has been speaking to young audiences all over the country and abroad, the Malappuram Government College experience was spell-binding. No one shifted in her seat. No one moved out of the hall. No one giggled quietly with her neighbour. There was total absorption, perfect understanding - and sharply enquiring minds.
Then came question time and hands went up. There seemed to be an unusually large number of Ambedkarites among the questioners, young women deeply versed in the works of the Founder of our Constitution, and, therefore, skeptical of both the intentions and achievements of Nehru's India.
There was such cut-and-thrust in the Q&A session that some of the women students asked if they could meet me separately to continue the discussion. I readily agreed. And we had a lovely and memorable encounter later in the evening.
When I mentioned this to former Kerala Chief Minister, A K Antony, he was not in the least surprised. That particular college, he said, and especially its women students, have been ranking at the top in the state for several years. I wonder why such examples did not figure in the Justice Rajinder Sachar's detailed report on educational and economic backwardness among the minorities. The Malappuram example shows that there is nothing universal or uniform in the educational profile or aspirations in the Muslim community or Muslim women in particular. Given solid primary and secondary school opportunities for both boys and girls of all communities, as is evident all over the state in Kerala, and a societal and family environment that valorizes education for all, including girls and women, it is indeed feasible to rid ourselves, in a reasonably short time, of Muslim educational backwardness in the country while fully respecting Muslim mores and culture. The answer lies in co-opting the Muslim community to voluntarily and, in a motivated manner, carry the Malappuram example to other parts of the country.
Minority backwardness in other parts of India is the consequence of the Muslim elite having voted with their hands for Pakistan, leaving the Muslim poor to vote with their feet to remain in India. In the South, and most particularly in the Muslim-dominated areas of Malabar, Partition was a distant event. Hardly any of the Moplahs migrated to Pakistan. And therefore, the community has been able to flower and flourish in South India as almost nowhere in other parts of the country. Not just the men - but also the bright eyed, self-confident (and modestly draped) Muslim young women who made my heart swell with pride at the diversity which marks every segment of our society, cutting across creed, class and caste.
To these young Muslim women, I render my humble homage, and my gratitude for the assurance they give that, whatever our present tribulations, the Idea of India that has enlivened us as a people for millennia will continue to prevail.
(Mani Shankar Aiyar is former Congress MP, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.)
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