NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) -- India's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party says it will clamp down on beef exports if it takes power, as expected, after the elections that end Monday, threatening supplies from one of the world's biggest shippers of the meat.
Although most of the meat is from buffalo, which are not worshipped by Hindus, the BJP wants to curb exports that jar with the country's vegetarian tradition and to boost the availability of animals reared to work on farms and for their milk.
A drop in Indian exports could buoy global cattle prices, which have come off record peaks this year after the U.S. herd was pegged at its lowest in more than six decades.
"If elected, we will crack down on beef exports and we will also review the subsidy the government gives for beef or buffalo meat exports," Satpal Malik, the BJP vice president who drafted the farm policy section of its election manifesto, told Reuters.
To help beef producers and exporters set up abattoirs, the federal government pays 50 to 75 percent of the cost of construction.
The BJP manifesto defines the "cow and its progeny" as integral to India's cultural heritage, appealing to the party's core constituency of Hindus who abhor eating beef.
The party has also said it would outlaw cow slaughter in the only two states where it is currently permitted, and wants to stamp out illegal abattoirs where meat from cows enters the supply chain.
Voting in the country's mammoth five-week general election has nearly finished, with polls showing the BJP taking the most seats and the ruling Congress Party likely to be ousted after a decade in power. Results are due May 16.
The possibility of a government drive to reduce exports has spooked beef suppliers at India's largest abattoir, which slaughters 300 to 500 cattle a day in Deonar on the outskirts of Mumbai.
"We have voted for Congress, but if the BJP comes to power, we will have to be cautious. They are against our trade and they may come with strict rules," said supplier Mohammad Shareef Qureshi, a Muslim sitting on an iron cot in a Deonar tea stall.
Beef production is dominated by Muslims, a minority in the country, and can stir sectarian divisions.
Clashes and altercations between groups affiliated with the BJP and people involved in beef production and exports are common.
"The situation would get worse for us under a BJP government," said one truck driver who transports livestock. Giving his first name as Guddu, he complained of harassment by some Hindu organizations while on the road.
"We do oppose cow slaughter and we do act against it ... Why should it be allowed when cow is sacred to millions of Hindus?" said Prakash Sharma, spokesman for one leading Hindu organization.
The next government must ban beef exports, added Sharma, whose group, the Vishva Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, is part of an umbrella group of Hindu nationalist organizations that includes the BJP.