South Asia | Bumpy road ahead for yogi leader in India's largest state

Bumpy road ahead for yogi leader in India’s largest state

Yogi Adityanath's early days in office, dominated by a crackdown on illegal slaughter-houses, have already provoked anger in the Muslim community

Lucknow, April 3, 2017 1:28 PM (UTC+8)
Yogi Adityanath takes his oath to become Chief Minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, on March 19. Photo: Reuters / Pawan Kumar
Yogi Adityanath takes his oath to become Chief Minister of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, on March 19. Photo: Reuters / Pawan Kumar

When India made philosopher Dr S Radhakrishnan its president in 1962, the eminent thinker Bertrand Russell described it as an honor to philosophy.

Fifty-five years later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appointment of Yogi Adityanath – the saffron-clad head priest of a Hindu temple – as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP) has drawn widespread criticism from opponents of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which they both represent.

Where one might see a philosopher in power as working toward the realization of the ideal state, in a multicultural society religious seers are likely to have a more polarizing effect. At any rate, many are concerned about Adityanath’s religious role hindering his ability to deliver good governance.

Adityanath’s first couple of weeks in office as chief minister give the impression that it is going to be a bumpy road ahead for his government.

Meat traders on strike

Meat traders, most of whom happen to be Muslim, have begun a state-wide agitation against a crackdown on illegal slaughter-houses initiated by Adityanath.

They feel their community is being targeted by the BJP government and that their livelihoods are being taken away due to its hasty decisions.

The meat-traders want the government to issue them with fresh licenses to run the slaughter-houses or give them alternative jobs. They argue that the government should have given them at least a month’s notice to find alternative arrangements.

Over 200,000 people are engaged in the meat industry in UP, which accounts for 19% of all meat produced in India. Since the bulk of the meat from recognized slaughter-houses is exported, local meat sellers depend on hundreds of illegal slaughter-houses flourishing across the state and serviced by poor, unskilled workers.

UP’s Health Minister Siddhartha Nath Singh has assured meat sellers that the government’s crackdown is only on slaughter-houses which do not comply with regulations or pay tax.

The Adityanath government, backed by the tribunal, has a fairly strong case against illegal slaughter-houses

Officials say there is no selective targeting of any community and that any confusion over the crackdown is because UP is transitioning from a lawless state to a law-abiding one. They blame the previous Samajwadi Party (SP) government, led by Akhilesh Yadav, for the current mess.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had been demanding the SP government close illegal and unhygienic abattoirs for two years. However, the SP did not act – largely out of fear of losing Muslim votes in the recent assembly elections.

As the Akhilesh government looked the other way, it is widely suspected some SP workers even made a fast buck by collecting hafta or protection money from meat sellers for allowing them to do business in violation of the tribunal’s order.

The Adityanath government, backed by the tribunal, has a fairly strong case against illegal slaughter-houses.

Many units in western UP, in particular, fail to meet the tribunal’s legal and environmental norms. They discharge untreated effluent, contaminated with animal waste, into open drains. The contaminated drain water then finds its way into rivers, polluting waterways and spreading water-borne diseases.

Moreover, animals are often slaughtered in unhygienic rooms with no ventilation or proper waste disposal, and no health check-ups are done on them before being slaughtered.

There are some 140 illegal and 40 recognized slaughter-houses on record in UP. In reality, however, hundreds more illegal units operate in the state.

The closure of illegal slaughterhouses has also hit kebab shops, many of which are dependent on getting a supply of meat at lower prices from such abattoirs. Most kebab shops in Lucknow remain shut, although they do not face any government ban.

Yoga for all

On March 29, Muslims were upset by Adityanath’s pitch for yoga for all. He compared Surya Namaskara (“salutation to sun”) yoga sequence to Muslims’ namaz (prayers), highlighting similar approaches by Hindus and Muslims to well-being.

Muslim clerics dismissed the yogi’s recommendation as evidence of the BJP’s Hinduvta agenda.

The yogi’s biggest test is likely to come, however, when the BJP’s central leadership initiates steps to build the Ram temple at the disputed Ayodhya site.

Another poll promise given by the BJP to UP voters is galvanizing public opinion against “triple talaq,” the Muslim practise of uttering the word talaq (“divorce”) three times that gives men the power to dissolve a marriage instantaneously.

Most Muslims in UP voted overwhelmingly for the BJP because they felt the previous governments of Akhilesh and Kumari Mayawati ditched them after gaining their votes. They do not fully trust Adityanath either because of his pro-Hindutva image. But they still believe – for now – that he will keep his election promise to work for the betterment of all.

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