During the Krishnotsava programme in Lucknow on 30 August, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced a complete ban on the sale of liquor and meat in Mathura. The region around Mathura-Vrindavan, extending to Agra and Aligarh, is considered Krishnabhoomi (the land of Krishna) and is hence considered sacred to Hindus. While no details about how this ban will come into effect have been revealed, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath put forth the suggestion that those who were involved in liquor and meat sale could now take up selling milk, so as to revive the glory of Mathura, which was once known for producing large quantities of animal milk. “Every effort will be made to develop Braj Bhumi and there will be no dearth of funds for this. We are looking at a blend of modern technology and the cultural and spiritual heritage for the development of the region,” he said.
The announcement comes just months before UP is set to go to the polls. While the move was celebrated by members of the saintly community and upper-class Hindus in UP, for the thousands of Muslims and Dalits employed in the meat processing and production industry, this means an uncertain future and large-scale unemployment. Prohibition of and a complete ban on meat production (particularly cow and cattle meat) have been long-standing political promises used by parties across the country in an attempt to win various voter groups over, including women and upper-caste Hindu voters (the traditional vote bank of the BJP). Such bans not only give rise to an illicit economy by encouraging bootlegging, but can also lead to a multitude of problems such as the issue of stray cattle, large scale unemployment, and extreme religious polarization.
Photograph by Wikimedia Commons
WHICH VOTER GROUPS WILL YOGI WIN OVER WITH THE BAN?Yogi Adityanath led BJP government has announced a liquor and meat ban in Mathura CityUP Chief Minister Yogi Adityananth’s liquor and meat ban in Mathura may help the BJP in UP Assembly elections next year
Several BJP MLAs during the 2017 assembly elections had promised that meat and liquor trading would be banned in areas that had famous temples.
As per Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna and his elder brother Balram were born in Vrindavan and Radha was born in Barsana. Due to the religious significance and tourism potential of these places, they were labelled as holy pilgrimage sites. A ban on meat and liquor in Vrindavan and Barsana was announced in 2017. The banning of meat and liquor in Mathura on the other hand will have a two-fold impact on the caste and religious dynamics of the area, further polarising the Hindu-Muslim dynamics in the district.
Given the proximity of the announcement to the UP Assembly Elections early next year, it is clear that the decision is a calculated move to appease the Hindu religious community. Top BJP leaders, including union home minister Amit Shah, have been focusing on the UP government’s efforts to revive the glory of the Hindu religious sites and have alleged that no other government but its own has paid attention to this. The BJP’s traditional vote bank – the Brahmin community – had reportedly been feeling alienated and neglected due to alleged preference accorded to Thakurs in the state under Yogi’s regime. In light of the 2022 Assembly Elections, all parties set out to woo the Brahmin community, which comprises roughly 12% of the population of the state. Both Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have announced their intention to build statues of Lord Parashuram and organized conclaves (sammelans) in order to woo Brahmins. However, this move will now be viewed by the Brahmin population as an affirmation of BJP’s commitment to preserving their faith and culture and could give BJP a leg up in the upcoming elections and restore the popularity of CM Yogi Adityanath in the community.
Local cadres of the BJP are also likely to be pleased with this decision as they have revealed that several BJP MLAs during the 2017 assembly elections had promised that meat and liquor trading would be banned in areas that had famous temples. The move will serve to preserve the overall narrative that the Yogi government has been creating since 2017 – when a ban on cow smuggling was ordered and state police directed to close down illegal slaughterhouses.
However, the issue of religious polarisation might stretch further. Unlike places like Vrindavan and Barsana where the ban has previously been placed, Mathura has a significant proportion of the Muslim population involved in the meat production and trading business. Muslims also comprise 8.7% of the total population of Mathura district. In 2017, the state administration’s strict crackdown on slaughterhouses, packaging plants, meat retailers, and restaurants led to the shutdown of all establishments that were unable to produce licenses.
The move was seen by some as against Muslims and Dalits who are largely associated with the small-scale meat trade in the area and across the state.
After this move, allegations of cow vigilante groups burning down meat shops and lynching suspected meat smugglers instilled fear in the minority community. Many reportedly shut down their shops to avoid unnecessary harassment.
According to news reports, the decision to ban slaughterhouses also led to a stray cattle problem in Mathura. Large-scale unemployment among the Muslim community was reported as well.
The liquor ban, on the other hand, is not being viewed from a very communal angle, as it will affect business owners from all communities.
Photograph by Wikimedia Commons
Photograph by Diego Delso | Creative Commons
ECONOMIC IMPACT OF MEAT AND LIQUOR BAN
The ban of liquor and meat production not only directly impacts the livelihood of the communities engaged in production, distribution, and sales of both but also affects several auxiliary industries associated with the same. As of 2020, UP contributes to over 64% of India’s overall export revenue and employs a whopping 25 lakh people (directly or indirectly) as part of the industry. According to UP’s Animal Husbandry Department, meat exports account for Rs. 26,685 crores annually. As per estimates, UP’s meat processing and trade industry is estimated to be worth between Rs. 15,000 – Rs 22,000 crores. The closure of slaughterhouses across states has been estimated to substantially impact the Rs. 22,000 crores (3.5 billion) meat trade and the Rs 50,000 crore leather business. 38 out of 72 government approved meat abattoirs across India are in UP and lakhs are employed in these abattoirs and shops.
Similarly, on an average, each liquor shop in UP provides an annual revenue of around Rs. 1.10 crores to the government, and UP has 27,352 such stores. In 2020-21, the state government earned Rs.30,061 crores through excise duty and license fees paid by liquor stores. The excise department of the Uttar Pradesh government, in an RTI response to India Today, stated that the past four years of Yogi Adityanath’s government have seen a 74% jump in revenue derived from excise duty and license fees. The average daily sale of alcohol in the state is worth Rs. 70-80 crores. It should also be noted that since coming into power, the Yogi government has granted licenses to 2,076 new liquor shops.
In March 2018, the government had declared five Nagar Panchayats in Mathura to be holy places, and the liquor ban was imposed. It was reported that the five Nagar Panchayats had 32 liquor shops, and the loss of excise amounted to Rs 11 crores.
HISTORY OF LIQUOR AND MEAT BAN POLITICS
Ahead of the 2015 Assembly Elections in Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar promised to ban the consumption of alcohol in the state if he was re-elected. One of the objectives of this move was to curb domestic violence, often linked with excessive drinking. As a result of the decision, women voters turned out in record numbers to support Kumar and he swept the elections. After he assumed his term as chief minister, Kumar announced prohibition in the state and the Bihar Excise and Prohibition Act came into effect on April 5, 2016. However, since the announcement of prohibition, there have been allegations of weak enforcement and complicity of officials and local public representatives, giving rise to a huge illicit economy for the sale and consumption of liquor. This led to the rise of consumption and addiction of other narcotic substances in the state. Most people suffering due to the prohibition are from the backward or the Mahadalit communities. The lack of an alternative occupation and the temptation to earn quick commission from the illegal sale of liquor has compelled poverty-stricken youth, and women, who supported the prohibition, to indulge in bootlegging. Bihar’s unemployment rate by October 2020 was 9.8%, which is well above India’s 6.7%.
Similarly, the liquor ban has been an integral point of contention in electoral politics in South India, with parties in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala struggling to implement and remove similar bans and restrictions on the consumption and production of liquor for years. In Andhra Pradesh, prohibition was imposed in 1995 by NT Rama Rao but was reversed by his successor N Chandrababu Naidu in 1997 citing huge losses in state revenue and inability to implement it effectively. During the run-up to the 2019 Assembly Elections, current Andhra Chief Minister YSRCP President Jagan Mohan Reddy had promised to implement prohibition in three phases if they came to power. The phases included the takeover of all liquor sales by the state government, a reduction in the number of liquor shops, and alterations to operating hours. In May 2021, Reddy announced a major shift in his government’s liquor policy, moving away from prohibition (nishedham) to restriction (niyantrana).
Poor implementation of these bans often gives rise to an illicit economy, putting the health of the population at greater risk due to the consumption of duplicates, locally produced unsafe liquor, or a shift to the consumption of more harmful narcotics. Prohibition, particularly in the case of alcohol, encourages bootlegging, which becomes a lucrative activity despite high risk and often government officials are involved in the bootlegging of banned liquor products. States have often reversed liquor bans, as revenue from liquor sales accounts for over one-fourth of the state’s income, and the ban directly affects the state’s finances. Another major issue of a blanket ban on any industry is the economic impact of the same. Shutting down an entire industry means shutting down the livelihood of those involved in the industry directly, indirectly, and through auxiliary industries. It is important for governments to create a robust plan for generating alternative employment for those employed in the industry before complete shutdown of economic activity.
Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Abhinay Chandna, Akansha Makker, Animesh Gadre, Kashish Babbar, and Kavya Sharma, Interns at Polstrat.