India: What's Modi's Beef with Cow Slaughter and Why Does He Want to Convict Cattle Traders Under the Country's National Security Act?

India's cattle traders and slaughterhouse workers may soon be sharing cell space with criminals who are deemed a threat to national security: The police director in one of India's largest states, Uttar Pradesh, has re-ignited a long-standing controversy with a new directive issued Tuesday that the region's bovine slaughterers and so-called smugglers are to be convicted under the National Security Act and Gangsters Act.

What's the problem?

States have started to implement a ban on the slaughter of cows since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with strong links to Hindu nationalists, came to power three years ago. The BJP have said eating beef is "against the idea of India."

In March 2017 Gujarat said those who slaughtered cows would face life-imprisonment, while in 2015, a Muslim who was suspected of feeding beef to his family was lynched. Early this year, up to 10 Muslim may have been killed by a vigilante mob while there were transporting cattle.

Hindus consider cows to be holy, and there have even been calls to change the national animal from Bengal Tiger to cow. Killing cows is illegal in some states, including Rajasthan.

It's forbidden to kill the animals when they get sick or old, and cow retirement homes are booming. There have been vigilante attacks against cattle traders, who Modi describes as "smugglers."

During the 2014 election campaign, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a point of tackling the country's $5bn beef export industry, which he reviled as a "pink revolution."

In May, the government banned traders from selling cows for slaughter at market.

Why are people angry?

Critics say Modi's policies favor Hindus in the constitutionally secular country. Other dominant religions in India include Christianity and Islam, which do not proscribe eating beef.

Others describe the ban on beef as an infringement of their civil liberties, with states such as West Bengal and Kerala describing the new laws as "arbitrary."

Despite the sacred status of the cow in Hinduism, India is one of the world's largest beef exporters.

India exports nearly 23 percent of the world's beef and has a beef industry worth $4.3bn. Small time leather-workers will be most affected by the ban on beef, and most of them are Muslims and low-caste Dalits, who have traditionally done these "unclean" jobs, according to the Washington Post.

In Kerala, a state that protested the ban, locals bemoaned the arrogance of Hindu politicians, imposing their way of life on those who do not share their value system. Some are concerned that the ban will result in a beef shortage, a meat that's widely eaten in the Muslim north.

How will this affect Modi?

Eighty percent of Indians are Hindu and support the ban on cow slaughter, likely helping Modi to secure another term. But those states in the south and north east, with Christian-majority populations, have fought back against the party's controversial decisions.

Three regions in north India — Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram — go to the polls in 2018, and the beef ban could influence regional election results.