“The doctor has strictly told me not to eat beef. But today, I want to eat… just to make a point, to assert my right as an individual,” C M Sunny, a Delhi Malayali, told the manager of Samridhi restaurant in Kerala House Wednesday when he bought a Rs 100 coupon for a meal including buffalo meat curry.
Sunny was among scores of Keralites who queued up at the restaurant as buffalo meat made it back to the menu following disruption for a day after the Delhi Police entered the state guest house premises Monday on an alert by a right-wing fringe group that the restaurant sold “beef” (cow meat).
Many including non-Malayalis turned up, amid increased security, to show they are protective of their right to eat what they want.
Radha Narayana Nair, who came from Gurgaon; Rajeev, who works in the Navy; Amal, a doctor who is on a visit to New Delhi; and Ashima Sabbarwal said politics over beef or any food item was unacceptable. “Why should anyone interfere in what we eat? It’s the individual’s choice,” said one of them and the others agreed.
People took “selfie with beef” and posted them on social media. “The incidents of rape of small girls do not become a topic for these politicians to take up,” said Radha. Sabbarwal said, “People should stand up if they want the country to go in the direction where we have right to eat freely, live freely.”
CPI(M) Rajya Sabha member Ritabrata Banerjee too had food at the restaurant. “I am not supposed to eat red meat, but I had it today to express my protest,” said Banerjee, who came along with CPI(M) politburo member M A Baby, party leader Nilotpal Basu and SFI president V Sivadasan. The buffalo meat dishes, fried and curry, were sold out in 45 minutes. The kitchen staff cooked them again. “Seeti sun rahe hain na?” a serving staff was heard telling a customer whose face fell when he heard the beef curry was over.
The restaurant management committee probably knew protests over the police visit and media coverage would draw more people for lunch. While the canteen orders 15 kg buffalo meat daily, 7 to 8 kg for lunch and rest for dinner, an extra 5 kg was ordered Wednesday. “The controversy has become a good advertisement for us. We would not get this much publicity even if the state government spends Rs 1 crore,” said a staff.
With the November local elections in Kerala becoming a litmus test for the ruling Congress-led UDF, CPI(M)-led LDF and the BJP, which is eager to establish itself as an alternative, the “beef issue” has political hues too. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy wrote to the Prime Minister and the Home Minister seeking protection for the state house. According to sources, the home ministry will submit a report to the PMO on the police “raid” so that a proper reply can be sent to Chandy.
BJP leaders were swift in distancing from those who “tried to create a scene” in Kerala House.