NEW DELHI // Hindu politicians have threatened to interrupt the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi if beef is on the menu for the participants and spectators. Hindus consider the cow sacred and slaughter of the animals is banned in most Indian states. But in October, more than 100,000 foreign visitors, including 8,000 athletes from 71 nations are expected to participate in the 12-day Games, and organisers have said beef will be available to the visitors.
"The law of the land must be upheld and beef must not be served to any in Delhi during the Games," said Vijay Kumar Malhotra, a senior leader with the BJP, a conservative Hindu nationalist party. He said if beef is served at the event, tens of thousands of people will "begin agitation and the organisers will not be able to conduct the Games peacefully". One athlete, who represented India in several international sporting tournaments including the Olympics, said the BJP's demand was "ridiculous and unacceptable".
"If finally beef really gets banned from the Commonwealth menu, many foreign sportspeople and other officials could feel bad and it will be considered a discredit on India's part as the hosting nation of such a prestigious event," said the athlete, who requested anonymity to avoid retribution from Hindu activists. "India's secular image will also be sullied and India might lose the chance to host such prestigious international events in the future."
In a letter to Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the organising committee of the Games, the senior BJP leader Rajnath Singh recently wrote that his political party wanted to highlight the country's "cultural values and age-old traditions" and would oppose the event if beef was not banned from the Games' menu. "Cow is considered sacred in India. This thought has been integral to our cultural ethos for ages. No wonder, even the founding fathers of our Constitution also advocated a ban on cow slaughter (Article 48)," Mr Singh wrote.
"The Commonwealth Games have become an important event where we should use every possible opportunity to highlight our cultural values and age-old traditions. By removing beef from the menu card, the organising committee would not only empathise with the popular sentiment but also save the Games from agitations and other possible controversies." Although the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT) is ruled by a government led by the Congress Party, its rival BJP holds a majority in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). The venues for the Commonwealth Games, which are seen as an opportunity to showcase New Delhi and India to the larger world, fall within the jurisdiction of the MCD.
"How can they serve beef in Delhi? It is illegal. The Games' villages come under our MCD area and in no way will we allow beef to be served to the Commonwealth sportspersons or guests," said Subhash Arya, leader of the MCD house, which has passed a resolution against consumption of beef at the Games. "We will make sure that the government does not import beef or sell beef - If the government still goes ahead with its plan of importing it, hard steps will be taken on that.
" It is not about party politics, even BJP's rival Congress councillors are supporting our view [on the ban on beef]." However, the organising committee for the Games, which is in charge of providing food to athletes and officials, said they have international rules and commitments, which they must abide by. "We will serve food from across the globe. It is an international event and we will be serving all kinds of food. The cuisines will be continental, African, Caribbean, among others," said Lalit Bhanot, secretary general of the committee.
Mr Bhanot hinted that his committee would not be able to ban beef from the Games' menu if some countries wanted it. The Congress-led Delhi [NCT] government has said if the Games' organising committee decides to include beef on the menu, it would be imported for athletes and officials only. "Rules for importing such items will be suitably altered for the purpose. Beef, if imported, will only be for the guests and sportsmen and not for general consumption," said Rakesh Mehta, chief secretary of the Delhi government.
Delhi's chief minister Sheila Dikshit said that the BJP had raised the issue "with an aim to disturb communal harmony and peace, and earn political mileage out of it". But BJP leader Jagdish Mukhi in Delhi said: "If beef is served, we will not allow the Games to take place. There are millions of Indians supporting our cause. The Games authorities should be aware of it." Some Hindus trace cow worship back to the Hindu god Krishna who is said to have first appeared as a cowherd. Hindus believe several other gods also lived for a time as cows and the animal remains a powerful symbol.
In 2002, a book by the Delhi University professor Dwijendra Narayan Jha presented historical evidence that Hindus ate beef long before the Muslim invasions in the 10th century. The Holy Cow Indian Dietary Traditions provoked a furore among Hindus and was banned. The professor, himself a Hindu, had to be provided with police security after extremists threatened him. In India, Muslims, Christians, low-caste Hindus, animist tribals and also some well-off urban Hindus who like its taste eat beef.