India will use all its “might” to ban the slaughter of cows across India, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said Sunday.
Mr Singh made the pledge during a speech to spiritual leaders in Delhi in the latest sign that the Hindi nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is ramping up efforts to fulfil one of its’ main election promises.
Last month, the government of Maharashtra – led by the BJP – banned cow slaughter, clamping down the beef trade which is run mostly by Muslims.
Other BJP-led states such as Jharkhand and Haryana have also tightened curbs.
India is the world’s second largest beef exporter and fifth biggest consumer.
“How can we accept the fact that cow slaughter is allowed in this country?” Singh said on Sunday.
“We will use all our might to ban it. We will try to build a consensus.”
Critics say tougher anti-beef laws discriminate against Muslims, Christians and lower-caste Hindus who rely on the cheap meat for protein, and fear they could pave the way to a nationwide ban that would threaten thousands of jobs.
India has some 300 million cattle, and animals foraging for food are a familiar sight on roads.
Their numbers could swell by 200,000 in Maharashtra alone as farmers abandon animals they can’t sell, according to the beef trade.
Modi, who in his election campaign last year criticised the previous government for promoting beef exports, in 2011 spearheaded a ban on beef trade in his home state of Gujarat that he led for more than a decade.
There is no central law on cattle slaughter though various states have brought in their own legislation.
Maharashtra’s latest ban has been widely ridiculed on social media and traders in Mumbai have shut abattoirs for days in protest.
Mohammad Ali Qureshi, president of the Bombay Suburban Beef Dealers Association, said a nationwide ban on beef will fail as people in several regions enjoy the meat that is a cheap source of protein.
“A nationwide ban on cow slaughter is impossible,” Qureshi said. “If the government takes any such decision we won’t sit quiet and their will be nationwide protest. They will have to regret their decision.”