On Saturday, Kerala witnessed protests across the state in the form of Beef fests.

It was against the Union government’s Gazette notification under the ambit of the Ministry of environment and forests (MoE&F) as part of the Prevention of Cruelty against Animals Act, 1960, which prohibited the sale of bovine animals for slaughter in the cattle markets across the country.

Source: b'Youth Congress organised Beef Festivals in front of Ernakulam BJP office in Kochi on Saturday / \xc2\xa0PTI'

This was widely perceived in the state as an attempt by the Central government to bypass the Constitution and enforce certain food habits by the backdoor as the "Preservation, protection and improvement of livestock” is Entry 15 of the State list of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, which means State legislatures have exclusive powers to legislate the prevention of slaughter and preservation of cattle.

The reactions were swift. 

Senior Congress leader AK Antony stated that this notification should be torn up and thrown in the dustbin. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the Left leaders were also quick to condemn it. Even as the notification came into effect from May 23, Kerala is yet to enforce and is planning to approach the Supreme Court for remedy.

Kerala is among the few states where Cow slaughter is permitted without riders and people have traditionally enjoyed their beef cutting across religious lines. Every restaurant in Kerala (except the vegetarian places) has beef on their menu with a range of beef delicacies.

It was not the first time that beef fests were held in the state to protest against the perceived Hindutva agenda of BJP. 

When Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in September 2015 on the rumours of slaughtering a calf, the Left youth and student bodies had protested by holding beef fests in colleges and outside. Within a month, there was also the instance of a raid in Delhi’s Kerala House, on a complaint that beef was being served there, that prompted such an impromptu reaction in the state.

But what changed the complexion of the protests this time around was the instance of a group of Youth Congress workers slaughtering a male calf in full public view in the Kannur city premises. The video was circulated widely on social media platforms by BJP State President Kummanam Rajasekharan and a Delhi BJP spokesman.

Within 24 hours, the Kannur City Police booked the perpetrators, including Kannur district Youth Congress President Rijil Makkutty, under section 120 A of the Kerala Police Act which, if convicted, is punishable upto an year in jail and a fine of Rs 5000.

Most Congress leaders in Kerala tacitly expressed their approval of the act by not reacting to it or playing it down. The CPM had been going to town of late accusing the Congress of Soft-Hindutva in the state and it is an undisputable fact that the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) lost a chunk of their minority vote to the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the 2016 assembly election leading to their rout.

But it seems the Central leadership quickly smelt the danger of not distancing from the act and Rahul Gandhi tweeted around 10 in the night on Sunday expressing his strong disapproval and an unequivocal condemnation. And soon the Youth Congress Chief suspended three office bearers. 

This morning, the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) Chief MM Hassan too suspended three of them from the party, including Rijil Makkutty.

It is a Catch-22 situation for the Congress as anything short of a strong condemnation by the Central leadership would have boomeranged on the party in the cow-belt where the cow is revered, unlike in Kerala.

Though some commentators are of the view that the damage has already been done, as the BJP is likely to utilise the video extensively on social media for propaganda, others opine that this would not sway the sentiments of voters in elections where more important factors define the outcome.

Meanwhile, the Congress line of argument is that while Rahul Gandhi himself condemned the public slaughter of the male calf, the Prime Minister has conspicuously chosen to ignore multiple instances of lynching of human beings and Cow vigilantism even as he is quick to offer his commiserations on tragedies elsewhere in the world.

While politics is inevitable, people in Kerala are more worried about their Sunday staple as well as the jobs that might be hit if the notification were to be enforced.