By Neeraj Shetye, MSc Politics of Conflict, Rights and Justice
Ahmedabad is the new addition to the list of cities in Gujarat that has started a crackdown on the so-called ‘illegal stalls’ selling non-vegetarian food. Before this, the civic bodies in Vadodara, Rajkot, Bhavnagar and Junagadh had launched similar campaigns.
The reason behind these campaigns is that the open stalls of non-vegetarian dishes ‘hurt religious sentiments.’ The stall owners are expected to completely stop the sale of non-vegetarian items in the stalls or cover the items.
“The attempt behind this campaign hints towards communal polarization as Gujarat is due for an election next year.“
The Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) has been in power in the state government for more than two decades, and all major civic bodies in the state are controlled by them. The attempt behind this campaign hints toward communal polarisation as Gujarat is due for an election next year.
The BJP is known for its conservative expression, professing a Hindu-supremacist ideology known as Hindutva. The campaign received a boost from Revenue and Law Minister Rajendra Trivedi, who stated that such food joints or kiosks ‘should be removed.’
In Ahmedabad, the officials received only verbal orders from the town planning and estate committee chairperson Devang Dani without any official notification. The campaign began in Rajkot on 9 November with a non-written order followed by Junagadh, Vadodara and Bhavnagar.
It received media coverage when Ahmedabad, one of India’s biggest cities, followed suit. The officials have maintained a common stance that the campaign is aimed at reducing traffic jams and removing hurdles for pedestrians.
The socio-political undertones of this move are rooted in Gujarat’s contentious legacy with vegetarianism. The state’s political landscape is dominated by Jain and Vaishnava communities, who are known to be staunch vegetarians. While the state is known to be a ‘’vegetarian’’ state, a large percentage of the population (approximately 46%) consume non-vegetarian food.
These populations belong to religious minorities like Muslims and other groups. As journalist Mahesh Langa observed in his report for The Hindu, most of the roadside stalls are owned by lower class communities including migrants from other states who do not have any stake in the state’s politics.
Mr Bhupendra Patel, the Chief Minister of the state, clarified that the move is not about vegetarian or non-vegetarian food. News agency ANI quoted him: ‘People are free to eat whatever they want. But the food being sold at stalls should not be harmful and the stalls should not obstruct traffic flow.’ BJP state chief, C.R. Patil maintains a similar stance that the issue is about reducing traffic. However, the Opposition party, Indian National Congress, has accused the government of distracting the public from issues like the price rise of essential commodities and unemployment.
Photo Caption: Non-Veg street vendors in Vadodara, Gujarat (Credit: Ravindra Joshi, Hindustan Times).