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Amul over Nandini? No whey

No creature—celestial or mortal—has been coveted, abducted or stolen as much and as many times as the sacred cow Nandini. She appears as the same as Kamadhenu in most stories, but as her daughter in a few. The list of her abductors is long—Vishwamitra, Satyavrata, the Ashtavasus, to name a few. Now Siddaramaiah has added one more—the BJP. Tweeted the Karnataka Congress leader last week: “You have already stolen banks, ports and airports from the Kannadigas. Are you now trying to steal Nandini from us?”

That one tweet defined the theme song of the Congress campaign in the current assembly polls—that the BJP, which is ruling the Centre and the state, has been taking away Karnataka’s crown jewels. Left unsaid in the tweet was a charge that the treasures are being given away to Gujarat or Gujaratis—Vijaya Bank to Bank of Baroda, ports to Gautam Adani, and now milk cooperative Nandini to Amul of Anand.

It is another matter that none of the recipients are solely Gujarat’s; they are the nation’s assets, though the Congress thinks that some are liabilities. Leave it; that’s something they may say till the cows and buffalos come home. Politics in India creates its own mythologies.

Milk and other dairy products seem to be turning politically sour in India these days. Only a few weeks ago had some wise guys in the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India decided that curd is bad for most Indians’ comprehension and digestion, and decreed that it be called dahi. No whey, cried Tamil champion M.K. Stalin, who thinks tayir suits the Tamil tongues, literally and linguistically.

Many others in the south, too, thought that the FSSAI was hitting below the Hindi belt, and took milk-curdling vows to fight the tyranny of the northern tongue. Soon, saner counsel and better taste prevailed on the dahi-digesters; they withdrew the order, ate their own words, and perhaps swallowed a few teaspoonfuls of milk of magnesia.

If Stalin’s problem was over curd, Siddaramaiah is cheesed off with several products that cooperative giant Amul’s milkmen have been churning out of India’s dudhsagar. Problems started when Union minister Amit Shah promised Kannadigas that he would send Amul to set up primary dairies in every village, and turn Karnataka into a land of milk and dahi. A few weeks later, Amul started sending out utterly butterly tweets about how it would turn Karnataka into a land of milk and Taaza.

That was when Nandini’s keepers in Karnataka too cried, “no whey”. Amul’s entry, they feared, would kill Nandini, though it defies logic how Amul, which sells a litre of toned milk at Rs52 to 54, can ever beat Nandini’s Rs39. And look at the irony. In no time, the defence of Nandini turned into a fight for Kannada pride and a war on Amul, the mother of India’s cooperative movement which had led the first war of self-reliance under Indira Gandhi. It was Amul’s Verghese Kurien who had fought off the global milk giant Nestle and super-packer Tetrapak by innovating ways to spray-dry buffalo milk (impossible, Nestle had cried), and pack oil in paper.

The milk war has sent the BJP in Karnataka running for cover in the Bandipur forest. Chief Minister Bommai has been getting Narendra Modi, the party’s prime vote-catcher, to visit the state every fortnight in the last four months, the last being on April 9 to catch a few tigers on camera, and gather a few more votes. Sadly, the cats are said to have stayed away, but votes may still pour in—or so hopes Bommai.

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