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Meat & cola off menu as towns turn holy

Bhopal, April 18: The Madhya Pradesh government has pinned the 'holy' tag on Orchha, Maihar and Chitrakoot.

The towns join the holy trinity of Maheswar, Amarkantak and Ujjain, where the sale of eggs, meat, fish and liquor are banned.

Chief minister Babulal Gaur today announced the move today to mark Ram Navami and said Rs 1 crore would be spent on each of these towns to develop religious tourism and heritage.

The chief minister also declared that soft drinks sold by multinationals like Pepsi and Coca-Cola must not be served at official events in these places and should be replaced with butter milk, lassi and shrikhand.

Political circles are abuzz, linking the move to the chief minister's recent visit to the RSS headquarters at Nagpur, where he was reportedly advised to stay close to the 'Hindutva' agenda.

Under pressure from predecessor Uma Bharti to hand over his crown, Gaur seemed to have readily opted to accept the Sangh's directive.

On January 30, 2004, Uma had declared Amarkantak, Maheshwar and parts of Ujjain as 'holy', triggering a wave of protests from citizens and dieticians who criticised her for forcing 'vegetarianism' on people.

Maheswar, famous for silk sarees, witnessed the worst backlash with Muslim weavers up in arms.

Once a city is declared holy, the sale of liquor and non-vegetarian food is banned through a government notification and licences given to hotels and shops for serving and selling liquor get cancelled, state public works minister Kailash Vijayvargiya said.

Gaur justified his decision, pointing to the religious significance of the three towns.

Located about 40 km from Satna, Maihar is famous for its Sharda Devi temple on a hilltop. The birthplace of Ustad Allauddin Khan is also an important centre for classical music.

Orchcha, on the banks of the Betwa, used to be the capital of Bundelkhand, the kingdom of the Bundela clan. Several temples and palaces built by the Bundela rulers still retain their medieval grandeur.

Colourful frescoes fashioned like miniature paintings depict scenes from Radha and Krishna's love lore.

Orchha is also home to the only temple where Ram is worshipped as a king.

Chitrakoot is believed to have been the place where Ram, Sita and Lakshman spent 11 out of their 14 years in exile. It is also thought to be the spot that saw the incarnations of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, the principal trinity of the Hindu pantheon.

Legend has it that it was in Chitrakoot that the sage Atri and Anusuya had meditated.

Former chief minister Digvijay Singh described Gaur's move as an 'act of fascism' and wondered how a government could determine people's eating habits in a democratic country.

'Was this an election promise of the BJP or mentioned in the manifesto' And what is he going to do about Ujjain's famous Kal Bhairon temple where people make liquor offerings' he asked.

Some senior government officials, too, expressed reservations in private, saying they would face problems in enforcing the law.

For instance, cities like Amarkantak, Orchha and Chitrakoot are close to Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh.

The officials said Amarkantak's porous border with Chhattisgarh and Chitrakoot and Orchha's proximity to Uttar Pradesh would encourage bootlegging and supply of substandard meat.

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