meat matters

Why vegetarian states love the BJP but non-vegetarian states prefer their own parties

Vegetarianism is a trait usually shared by the upper castes, who are the traditional vote banks of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The stereotype of India as a vegetarian land is deep. Government-funded universities often don’t allow meat and eggs in their messes, there are whole towns that are vegetarian by law and even ads for the Incredible India! campaign sell India with an ironic joke predicated on the assumption that most Indians are vegetarian.

Actually, nearly three out of four human Indians share the meat-eating habits of the Royal Bengal Tiger.
Actually, nearly three out of four human Indians share the meat-eating habits of the Royal Bengal Tiger.

However, recent census data released by the government has pricked the bubble of India as a vegetarian nation. In the real world, only 30% of Indians above the age of 15 are vegetarian. Seventy per cent are – to use that unique Indian-English word – non-vegetarians: a classification that includes people who eat any combination of fish, meat and eggs. That so much of Indian public life is still dominated by a small minority of vegetarians is a good example of the power of caste in India, given that vegetarianism in India is usually an upper caste trait.

Meat map: Only 5 out of 29 states in the Indian Union are majority vegetarian.
Meat map: Only 5 out of 29 states in the Indian Union are majority vegetarian.

Of course, the numbers have always shown India as a non-vegetarian nation – even as the stereotype persists. As the data was released, though, some users of social media decided to take a different angle: how do eating habits influence India's political choices?

The Bharatiya Janata Party has made food habits a part of its politics, with a slew of bans on the consumption of beef recently. It has also extended this to meat in general, banning meat for the Jain festival of Paryushan across five states. More damagingly, its religious puritanism on the matter means that BJP governments are even willing to ban eggs from the mid-day meal programme, denying India's malnourished children crucial protein. Of course, this puritanism means that it is fitting that vegetarian states in India should lean towards the BJP. But do they?

Scroll.in took a lead from the chatter on social media and ran through the numbers on vegetarianism and BJP governments. India has five states that could be considered vegetarian (defined as having at least half their population as vegetarian). These states are Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. Remarkably, four out of these five have BJP chief ministers and the fifth, Punjab, has the BJP ruling the state as a junior partner in coalition with the Akali Dal.

The converse holds as well: India has eight states which are almost completely non-vegetarian, that is with less than 10% vegetarians – Telangana, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Odisha, Jharkhand and Bihar. Of these, only one currently has a BJP government: Jharkhand. In South India, the only state where the BJP has a significant presence is also, coincidentally, the only state where vegetarians have a significant presence: Karnataka with 21% vegetarians.

Correlation and causation

In fact, if we run the numbers over the past 20 years, vegetarianism and the BJP have a rather high correlation. Since 1996, the correlation coefficient of the proportion of vegetarians in a state and the number of BJP governments it has elected is a rather high 0.61*.

The correlation coefficient measures how well two variables move together and ranges from +1 (perfect positive correlation) and -1 (perfect negative correlation).

To put the 0.61 in perspective, the correlation coefficient between city population and the Barack Obama vote in 2012 was 0.34. The fact that big cities vote Democrat (the party Obama represents) is almost a truism in American politics; so the correlation coefficient of 0.61 for vegetarianism and BJP state governments is quite high.

Of course, correlation is not causation. To assume that palak paneers or aloo gobhis somehow engender in people the urge to vote for the BJP would be a somewhat weedy hypothesis. Vegetarianism, in this case, is a mask for caste as well as geography. Unlike the West, vegetarianism is rarely an individual choice in India, being dictated by identity. North and West India are far more inclined towards their veggies than the East or the South. Of course, high caste Hindus are far more likely to abstain from meat than Dalits, Muslims or Christians. Thus, as it happens, vegetarian populations are the traditional vote banks of the BJP – which rather prosaically explains the high correlation.

The Congress also, in fact, displays a small correlation of 0.11 with vegetarianism. However, the true mirror image of the BJP are state parties that have a significant correlation of 0.53 with non-vegetarianism. This, of course, is because state parties dominate in the South and the East. In South India, only one state, Karnataka is ruled by a national party, the Congress, and in eastern India, Assam is the only major state to not be ruled by a state party.

*Note: In case of coalitions, election wins are credited to a party only if it is the senior member. Only the major states have been included in the analysis, with the exception of three new states Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarkahand, due to lack of 20-year election data.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Watch Ruchir's journey: A story that captures the impact of accessible technology

Accessible technology has the potential to change lives.

“Technology can be a great leveller”, affirms Ruchir Falodia, Social Media Manager, TATA CLiQ. Out of the many qualities that define Ruchir as a person, one that stands out is that he is an autodidact – a self-taught coder and lover of technology.

Ruchir’s story is one that humanises technology - it has always played the role of a supportive friend who would look beyond his visual impairment. A top ranker through school and college, Ruchir would scan course books and convert them to a format which could be read out to him (in the absence of e-books for school). He also developed a lot of his work ethos on the philosophy of Open Source software, having contributed to various open source projects. The access provided by Open Source, where users could take a source code, modify it and distribute their own versions of the program, attracted him because of the even footing it gave everyone.

That is why I like being in programming. Nobody cares if you are in a wheelchair. Whatever be your physical disability, you are equal with every other developer. If your code works, good. If it doesn’t, you’ll be told so.

— Ruchir.

Motivated by the objectivity that technology provided, Ruchir made it his career. Despite having earned degree in computer engineering and an MBA, friends and family feared his visual impairment would prove difficult to overcome in a work setting. But Ruchir, who doesn’t like quotas or the ‘special’ tag he is often labelled with, used technology to prove that differently abled persons can work on an equal footing.

As he delved deeper into the tech space, Ruchir realised that he sought to explore the human side of technology. A fan of Agatha Christie and other crime novels, he wanted to express himself through storytelling and steered his career towards branding and marketing – which he sees as another way to tell stories.

Ruchir, then, migrated to Mumbai for the next phase in his career. It was in the Maximum City that his belief in technology being the great leveller was reinforced. “The city’s infrastructure is a challenging one, Uber helped me navigate the city” says Ruchir. By using the VoiceOver features, Ruchir could call an Uber wherever he was and move around easily. He reached out to Uber to see if together they could spread the message of accessible technology. This partnership resulted in a video that captures the essence of Ruchir’s story: The World in Voices.

Play

It was important for Ruchir to get rid of the sympathetic lens through which others saw him. His story serves as a message of reassurance to other differently abled persons and abolishes some of the fears, doubts and prejudices present in families, friends, employers or colleagues.

To know more about Ruchir’s journey, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Uber and not by the Scroll editorial team.