Cleaning up UP's meat mart is a good idea
Article first published in @abplive.in click here
These are entertaining times. A popular eatery running out of meat for an hour brings the national political discourse, if not the country, to a halt. Shortage of buffalo meat raises the spectre of malnutrition in Uttar Pradesh, when a vast section of the population, both in the State and the country, survives without consuming any animal protein at all. Does one recall similar outrage when sweet shops across north India used to reel under scarcity of milk in summer months?
Similarly, there are concerns about threats to Lucknow’s fabled Awadhi culinary traditions (does not matter if only a miniscule part of it was dependent on bovine flesh), but no tears are shed for the fast disappearing vegetarian cuisine of UP. Today, it is difficult to find a good shop selling decent kachori and subzi in the city barring a couple of shops in Chowk. However, that is not the point.
Just about a year ago, there was massive hue and cry over Nitish Kumar declaring Prohibition in Bihar as per his election campaign promise. Usual arguments were raised, similar to the ones that are being heard after the closing down of illegal abattoirs in UP. There were the expected warnings about how it would be a crippling blow to the state exchequer and the inevitable spawning of illicit liquor industry and bootleggers. Despite such doomsday prophecies, Nitish Kumar stuck to his decision and did not dilute the liquor ban by making any exceptions and Biharis seem to be doing fine without their tipple.
Before that, we had the controversy over beef ban in Maharashtra. The protestors happily ignored the fact that what people were eating in any case was buffalo and not cow meat. Now, several months down the line, ‘Buff’ is still freely available and no one is complaining. Also there are no statistics to indicate any sharp rise in protein deficiency among traditionally beef-eating communities in the State or a drop in their haemoglobin count or other health indices.
Surely, there will be debates about the larger implications of these actions on the livelihood of people, religious beliefs, personal liberties, freedom of choice, etc. Admittedly, much of it may also have a sound basis. However, that does not alter the fact of it being a matter of life-view of one set of people versus another.
It is a point well accepted that democracy is not about majoritarianism. But equally it is not about minorityism either. Nor does democracy entitle a miniscule educated elite to be the custodian of the national conscience and repository of all wisdom. Political and sociological dynamics have a life of their own and to deny it could be even more perilous for the nation.
It is perfectly legit for the intelligentsia to highlight the risks of certain moves and developments. But for them to cry murder of democracy and try to hold the system hostage with their polemics is an insult to not just the will but also the collective intelligence of the masses.
Politicians understand this better and successful leaders among them harness and positively channelise the sentiments and aspirations of the people for transformation of society. For example, it is difficult for scotch-sipping intellectuals in large cities to understand the daily scourge of liquor in rural Bihar.
I know a senior retired Government of India bureaucrat who was extensively involved in the field of drugs and addiction issues in various capacities. According to him, there is empirical evidence to show that prohibition has contributed to an increase in GDP of States where it has been in force for a significant length of time, a case in point being Gujarat. Contrary to anecdotal accounts of liquor being freely available in the State (which may be true in large cities, that too in limited areas), the problem of alcoholism has been practically eliminated from rural Gujarat.
This, according to him, is certainly one of the less talked about factors of Gujarat’s economic prosperity – not just by accrual of savings but also increasing the productivity of farm labour. Therefore, it is not surprising that while the social drinkers suffer withdrawal symptoms while travelling in Bihar, the village lady remains beholden to Nitish Kumar.
Legalisation of abattoirs was a decision that was bound to come sooner than later. It is an imperative if India has to move to the league of developed nations and missions like Swacch Bharat have to become a reality. In all the heat generated under the taavas used for frying kebabs, there is hardly any mention of illegal abattoirs being on the radar of the Central Pollution Control Board. Apart from anything else, uncontrolled slaughterhouses have serious health and hygiene implications. This arises for lack of quality control on the animals culled, which are often diseased. Adulteration of meet is also rampant.
In India, many small eateries and restaurants source their meat from local butchers or private slaughterhouses for reasons of cost. This will have to change but that should not take long or cause major supply-chain disruptions. In any case, only APEDA licenced units, none of which are touched, can do meat exports. Even overseas, village butcheries are certified. There is no reason why that cannot happen in India if the administration has the will.
That the new Chief Minister of UP has chosen to do it at one stroke is an administrative and political call best left to him. Ultimately, he is accountable to his people. The chattering classes cannot even begin to understand its implications just as they had totally misread the impact of demonetisation. In hindsight, people are beginning to accept that demonetisation coupled with Jan Dhan Yojana and Direct Benefit Transfer have actually earned Prime Minister Narendra Modi votes in the rural areas.
Therefore, having done their bit in raising the flag for culinary choices in a democracy, the liberals should not work themselves up further. Instead, as summer is setting in, they would do well to settle down with a cool cocktail and low-calorie vegetarian rajma galautis, to keep both blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check.
Because, like his Prime Minister, Yogi Adityanath knows what he is doing and will stick to course without getting unduly distracted by TV and social media cacophony.