Leader of Opposition in Madhya Pradesh Gopal Bhargava claimed the introduction of eggs in the state government’s midday meal plan could turn children into cannibals, Hindustan Times reported on Friday. He made the comment after the state government announced its plan to include eggs in the midday meal scheme to tackle malnutrition.

“What else can we expect from a malnourished government?” he said. “Today they are giving eggs. If it doesn’t solve the problem of malnutrition they will then give mutton and chicken to them…If we teach this right from the childhood, they may end up becoming cannibals when they grow up.” Bhargava said during a visit to Raj Bhavan in Bhopal on Wednesday.

The BJP leader added that “our culture” forbade non-vegetarianism, and that no one can be forced to eat eggs.

Madhya Pradesh Woman and Child Development Minister Imarti Devi had announced the plan on Wednesday. “To control malnutrition in the state, we have decided to provide eggs to the children in the midday meal offered in the anganwadis from the month of November,” she said, according to The Times of India. “We aim at ending malnutrition.”

Following widespread opposition, the minister said that doctors treating malnourished children prescribed eggs for their good health. “Also, eggs do not come in the category of non-vegetarian food, they come under vegetarian food,” she said, according to Outlook.

Several BJP leaders opposed the move, saying that there were other food options available. BJP’s General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya alleged that the Congress-led government was trying to “interfere with [the] belief and sentiments of people”. He said that the saffron party would oppose the decision.

Congress criticised Bhargava’s remarks and said that the BJP had no other political matter to raise. “In its 15-year regime, malnutrition was a major problem among children below the age group of five years but the BJP leaders did not raise the issue,” the party’s spokesperson Narendra Saluja told The Times of India. “The minister has clarified that [the] government’s priority is children’s health.”

Congress’s state spokesperson Bhupendra Gupta questioned whether many BJP leaders did not eat non-vegetarian food, and described Bhargava’s comments as “absurd and highly condemnable”.

Madhya Pradesh has around 97, 135 anganwadis and 6,57,100 children between the ages of six months and six years are enrolled with them as of March 31, a state WCD official said.

Right to Food activists have often pointed out the importance of providing eggs in the school meal. The dietary guidelines of the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad highlights that animal proteins have higher quality than plant proteins. People can get their protein requirement from a vegetarian diet but such a diet will have to contain a combination of cereals, millets and pulses to provide all the amino acids that build better-quality proteins. Eggs are the best sources of protein having a very high biological value – the metric used to measure protein content – and therefore the best way to fight severe undernutrition among children across India.

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