A ‘godman’ and newly elected BJP MLA in Rajasthan who had gone around town on Monday closing shops selling meat and other non-vegetarian food has backed off and apologised for a move that would have robbed many of his constituents of their livelihood.
Balmukund Acharya, cleric of Jaipur’s Hathoj Dham, was elected from the heritage quarter of Hawa Mahal by a margin of 974 votes over the Congress’s R.R. Tiwari. On Monday, a day after the results were announced and even before his swearing-in, Acharya went around the congested neighbourhood to shut shops selling non-vegetarian products. Butchers in the area are mostly Muslim.
Videos of his heated exchange with municipal officials and police went viral. On Tuesday, Acharya said he was sorry.
Alleging that these shops were spreading unspecified diseases, Acharya said in a video statement that he had merely requested officials to ensure that the food was covered. “Smoke and foul smell emanate in the open. Those who abstain from this have a problem. I only requested (the officials). They say I spoke loudly. I have a sore throat… That’s why I spoke that way.”
He added: “If anyone felt bad, I apologise. This was not for any particular category (of people)…. I am working according to respected PM Modiji’s vision. We want everyone’s support, trust and collective development of all.”
Hawa Mahal is a backpackers’ hub. Tourists from across the world flock here not just to see the monuments in the neighbourhood, but also to use it as a base to travel to other parts of the state. Its charm lies as much in the arches and domes of its homes as it does in its narrow and often unclean streets with quaint shops that also sell all kinds of food.
On Monday, poultry sellers were seen downing their shutters after Acharya — accompanied by a supporter wielding a golden mace —tried to compel a police inspector to shut down the shops.
He also called up an unidentified official in front of TV cameras and said: “Can non-veg be sold openly on the road? Answer yes or no. So, you support this. All roadside non-veg stalls should be shut down immediately. I will take the report from you in the evening. I don’t care who the officer is.”
The People’s Union of Civil Liberties said in a statement: “There is no mention of veg and non-veg in the Street Vendors Act. There is a rule to create vending zones and provide security to street vendors by constituting a town vending committee. Till now, the town vending committee has not provided protection to the vendors. Licences have not been given to vendors and vending zones have also not been identified. In such a situation, a newly elected MLA taking the law into his hands and threatening meat shops and non-veg street vendors is a matter of great concern.”
“This is unheard of in Rajasthan. It seems like the MLA’s individual bravado rather than a planned action. My sense is that he was pulled up by senior leaders,” Jaipur-based political analyst Sunny Sebastian told this paper.