Cancelling Kolkata’s ‘Beef Festival’ Begs the Question: Is BJP the Real Winner in Bengal?

“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps,” India awakened to jittery anticipations of daybreak, which would usher in the vote count.

In my busy house in West Bengal, everything seemed louder than usual. The neighbours seemed to be screaming more, and the clang of pots and pans seemed eerily like an army marching into position. But the sound of the TV beat everything else. We huddled close together, to watch in silence, as India fell apart under a fascist rule, hoping against all hope, that West Bengal would be spared.

Eighteen to twenty-two. That is what it came down to.

We watched, with a haunting finality, what the long-drawn-out Modi v/s Mamata debacle had progressed to. Eighteen – that is 16 more than the 2014 general election, where the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) only secured two seats in West Bengal. From 4.7% to 42.8% is a giant leap, and too close to the mark of an absolute majority.

On May 19, we realised that India had voted for dictatorship.

For selfish reasons, I was grateful that Bengal had been spared. Yes, there were saffron parties on the roads. Yes, the media covered exuberant groups chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram’. Yes, the Mamata Banerjee government had a vicious and strong opponent right under its nose. But despite all of it, Trinamool still had a majority. Our state was not heading for a bloodbath – at least not for the next five years – even if the margin was paper-thin at only four seats.

I was wrong, though.

As it turns out, the saffron brigade did not need an absolute majority to win the state. What we forgot in our premature expression of relief is that terror follows no laws. It does not care for consent, for individual expression, or for the legal and right course of action. It only recognises hatred, divisive anger and an unquenchable thirst for power. It was foolish of us to ever believe that the rampant animosity between Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi would ever vanish; that it would not lead to destruction on our home turf, sooner or later.

In the days that followed, an individual (name withheld for privacy), casually explored the idea of a Beef Festival in Kolkata. Soon, it mushroomed into a phenomenon that all of Kolkata was looking forward to. It came tiptoeing in the aftermath of the BJP website being hacked and flooded with beef recipes, just as the prime minister was being sworn in. Today, ‘beef’ simultaneously symbolises the educated citizen’s protest for freedom and the fascist party’s endeavours to curb the same.

A noted media company (name withheld for privacy) organised the Beef Festival as a day-long retreat into gastronomical paradise – ranging from tenderloin to back ribs, and more.  Originally to be held at Priya Cinema, the organisers had to move the event to a larger café in Sudder Street due to the fast-rising number of those who marked ‘Going’ in the Facebook event page.

Fascists are anything but blind.

They have a Thought Police that lives like a tapeworm within you, noting all your activities, becoming self-aware and eating away the parts of you that it disagrees with. In this case, it tried to eat away the entirety of its host. Owing to rising discomfort from easily triggered bhakts, the organisers changed the name of the event to ‘The Beep* Festival’. While pork is still pork, beef is an expletive in modern-day India because the only valid religion is the one that fascists abide by.

As the organisers soon discovered, bullies cannot be appeased by accommodation.

They understand no rhyme or reason, much fewer laws, and fundamental human rights. ‘The Beep* Festival’, scheduled to be held on June 23, fell prey to such bullies. In a Facebook post, the media company writes, “Even though we planned for this to happen after the elections, to avoid political tension, we couldn’t avoid it… However, things have gotten out of hand. Yesterday, (name withheld) received 300+ calls, a lot of them to show support, but a lot of them were direct threats… Keyboard warriors kept abusing us…”

They ultimately cancelled the event citing the danger to public safety, “…we cannot ensure the safety of all of you… If any one person is harmed, we would feel personally responsible, and we cannot accept that.”

They say that they are “afraid.” It is 21st century and we still hear about acid attacks, Dalit oppression, an alarming climate change crisis, an unstable economy, and yet, what hundreds of citizens chose to be angry about was food.

In India, 270 million people remain below the Poverty Line. Yet, the triggered communal ‘saffron-ites’ choose to bide their time by picking on a celebration, trying to find a religious divide in what 195.9 million in India don’t have access to – food.

While the blue-white fairy lights glisten on the highway, the households of bhakts are serving saffron tea, while laughing over the idea of a Trinamool majority. In their heart of hearts – if they have one – they know that our government is done for. It is a BJP-led Bengal, a BJP-led India, no matter what the EVMs say.

Once you corrupt individual freedom, coerce citizens to recognise you as the Alpha, then the need for a formal title to rule a State, disappears. As you read this, the saffron-ites, are debating over pamphlets of upcoming art exhibitions, theatre, movies and a long list of journalists to kill or report to Amit Shah on Twitter.

Under the garb of signing 10 lakh postcards, they are rewriting the Indian Constitution – one act of terrorism at a time. Every time Mamata Banerjee breaks from her convoy to scream down a group chanting the RSS slogan, her government becomes weaker in the eyes of the hunter. Bengal has been infiltrated, being governed by a non-governing body, and that is the reality the EVMs did not tell us.

Meghalee Mitra is a littérateur and hopes to change the world, one word at a time. 

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty