Some 30,000 Indian soldiers guarding the border with Bangladesh have a new mandate. The soldiers besides doing their routine jobs have been assigned to stop cattle from crossing illegally into Bangladesh.

With this latest move, the Muslim majority neighbour country of India, is now left beef starved.

Soldiers along the border armed with bamboo sticks and ropes wade through jute and paddy fields and swim across ponds to chase ageing bovines, and smugglers, headed for markets in Bangladesh.

The crackdown is a glaring example of how the ruling right wing politics led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi not only dominates the sizeable Muslim minority in India, but also increasingly influences its Hindu nationalist ideology on neighbouring countries.

Reports said about 2 million head of cattle are smuggled into Bangladesh annually from India. The $600 million-a-year trade has flourished over the past four decades and is considered legal by Dhaka.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh during his recent visit to the border with Bangladesh, had asked India’s Border Security Force to halt cattle smuggling completely so that the “people of Bangladesh give up eating beef”.

BSF soldiers have so far this year seized 90,000 cattle and caught 400 Indian and Bangladeshi smugglers.

Bangladeshi traders who operate auctions to facilitate the sale of cattle to slaughter houses, beef processing units, tanneries and bone crushing factories estimate the industry contributed 3 per cent to the country’s $190 billion economy.

The hit to GDP from India’s policy is not yet known. But HT Imam, a political adviser to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said there was “absolutely no doubt” that the beef trade and leather industry were suffering.

Syed Hasan Habib of Bengal Meat, Bangladesh’s top beef exporter, said it had to cut international orders by 75 per cent. The company exports 125 tonnes of beef a year to Gulf countries.

He said the price of cows had gone up by 40 percent over the past six months because of India’s move, and they had been forced to close two processing units.

Habib plans to import cows from Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar to meet domestic demand, but he said Indian cows had better quality meat and raw hide.

Bangladesh Tanners Association president Shaheen Ahmed said 30 of 190 tanneries had suspended work due to lack of hides, and about 4,000 workers were jobless.

A senior official in India’s home ministry said Bangladesh should find new sources of beef because India would stick to its stance.

India is home to 300 million cattle and is the world’s largest beef exporter and fifth-biggest consumer. Things changed after Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which is closely linked to the RSS, came to power-the rhetoric on cow protection and the beef ban has increased.

The tougher anti-beef laws discriminate against Muslims, Christians and lower-caste Hindus who rely on the cheap meat for protein. Butchers and cattle traders, many of them Muslim, say the push threatens thousands of jobs.

“My religion permits me to eat and sell beef, so why should Hindus have a problem?” said Tarafdar, sitting in a crammed prison cell in Basirhat district.

Some BSF soldiers said they could not understand why they were chasing cows. Some animals are caught and auctioned by the BSF, only to be bought and smuggled again.

(With inputs from Agencies)