Kolkata isn’t the same Kolkata anymore where political leaders participate in public beef eating, in middle of the street to protest “growing intolerance” in the brazen provocation. With the BJP’s 18 seat win from the state in the recent Lok Sabha and a resurgent Hindu right in Bengal, a beef festival was first forced to change its name to “Beep festival” after alleged threats and now stands cancelled.

Arjun Kar, organised a beef festival which was in turn arranged by the organisation The Accidental Note and called it for “good food and good time”.

The poster of the original beef festival that has been accessed by MyNation said that the festival was slated for June 23, near Priya Cinema, a popular movie theatre in Kolkata. Not only this, in larger fonts it read: “Kolkata Beef Festival” with a picture of beef steaks.

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But what was possible in 2015, when few top CPI(M) leaders, including the former Mayor, came together to eat beef on Kolkata streets seems no longer a cake walk in June 2019 after a significant saffron surge in the state.

Poster of cancelled beef festival

Kar insists it was just a ‘normal’ beef festival. Even The Accidental Note says, “Food has never been political to us. We wanted to avoid all complications and controversies and make an event for people to have fun and remember.” 

While beef eating is legal in Bengal, many insist that the festival was not as simple as it sounds. A BJP supporter but also a beef eater told MyNation the date of the festival ‘wasn’t innocent’. He said it was organised on June 23 “to mock the result on May 23 that brought back BJP in power at the centre”. If he is to be believed, it was less of a culinary event and more of a political one making a political statement.  
However, The Accidental Note rubbishes all such allegations. 

The beef festival in 2015 that passed off even without the state CPI(M)’s stiff opposition, couldn’t this time due to changed political realities. Back then when Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya was questioned, even by the liberal left, for his beef eating in the middle of the streets, he shrugged it off by saying, “There may be a difference of opinion on the way of the protest. But the time has come to raise our voice against the growing intolerance in the country”.

But this time Kar couldn’t shrug off like the CPIM leader. He claimed he received threat calls and his organisation precisely cancelled the fest under security consideration.

Speaking to MyNation Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Sourish Mukherjee said, “We understand eating beef is legal and allowed in Bengal. But our opposition has been making a public spectacle out of it. If anyone has to eat beef in Kolkata, he or she can very well do it in the confines of their homes. Why do it out there? If they do so, it is to blatantly hurt religious sentiments. Nothing more, nothing less.”

CPI(M) leader Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya eating beef in 2015 beef festival

Bengal has undergone a saffron makeover in the last few years, in fact beyond the recognition of many Bengalis who left the state. The state started celebrating “Ram Navami” with Ram in a chariot, “Jai Shri Ram” has reached the lexicon of bongs apart from its usual “Jai Ma Kali” and rath yatra is seen as a legitimate mode of exercising one’s religious freedom. All of this happened in the backdrop of a perceived appeasement politics by the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool and a growing Hindu consolidation crafted by the BJP. The BJP saw a rise in vote share from 16% to almost 40%, making it a front-runner in Bengal's politics like never before. Amid the regional vs religious narrative of Trinamool vs BJP there came the changed perception about events like beef festival, all the more when it was to make a political statement. 

Beep or beef, has become a thing in the past for Kolkata.