Paragon of virtue: BJP spokesperson withdraws FB post, says he was supporting a Hindu restaurant chain

BJP spokesperson Sandeep G Varier
BJP spokesperson Sandeep G Varier

BJP spokesperson Sandeep G Varier has withdrawn his Facebook post that was widely seen as defying the BJP stand on the 'Sabarimala halal jaggery' issue. Varier put up another post saying his first post was actually in support of the Paragon Group of Hotels, which was run by Hindus and was the target of a smear campaign on social media.

"The post was born thinking of the hardships the owner, Sumesh Govind, had gone through to build such a large restaurant chain that employs 1650 employees," Varier said. "But the media made it out as if my post was against the party's stand and this had caused serious misunderstanding among party workers," he said, explaining his decision to pull out the first post. He said the official stand on the issue (halal jaggery) was already articulated by his party's state president K Surendran.

In his first post, Varier had said that it would be good if Hindus, Christians and Muslims realised that they could not live in Kerala if they competitively impose economic sanctions on each other. "A Hindu works in a Muslim's company and a Muslim in a Hindu's. A quick social media post is enough for you to destroy an institution. But when this happens, pushed into hunger and poverty would be people from all religions. The auto rickshaw driver who depends on the customers of this institution or the vegetable and milk vendors who supply to this institution and the agent who reaches the daily newspaper belong to various religions. There would be Ram, Rahim and Joseph among them," Varier had said in the defunct post.

This was widely seen as an indirect rebuke of the BJP's attempts to intensify the 'halal terrorism' debate. At a function organised in Thiruvananthapuram to protest the death of a BJP worker in Palakkad, state president K Surendran said: "In many places, terrorists are implementing their agenda in food and clothing. Various institutions in Kerala are being communalised. Halal hotels, halal bakeries and now it has come to such a pass that even Sabarimala has been forced to use halal jaggery."

With a clear intention of causing aversion towards Muslim food habits, Surendran had shared on his Facebook a video of a Muslim spiritual leader blessing the food prepared for a big feast somewhere in Kerala. The spiritual head takes two to three spoons of the rice from the large vessel into a plate and, as if the rice is too hot, softly blows over it and drops the rice back into the large vessel. The same 'soft blow' ritual is done with the meat. "Why are progressives so silent when such crude superstitions are taking place in a civilised society like ours," Surendran said in his post. Surendran and other Sangh leaders and social media handles operated by them would later use this cleric's action to claim that all 'halal' dishes are first spat upon before reaching the customer.

K Surendran
K Surendran

The 'spit' video triggered a social media campaign against food joints providing 'halal' food. The essence of the hate messages was that all 'halal' foods were to be avoided as they were spat upon as part of a disgusting Muslim ritual. A WhatsApp campaign by Soldiers of Cross, on the face of it a Christian group that opposed Muslim practices, had listed the names of hotels serving 'non-halal' food. All the listed hotels were run by Hindus. Paragon and its sister hotel (Salkara) were in the list. This prompted a counter campaign asking Muslims to boycott Paragon. Varier now says he was actually opposing this anti-paragon campaign. The Paragon Group has approached the Cyber Cell against the social media campaign against its outlets.

By a strange coincidence, the attack against 'Paragon' coincided with the Sabarimala halal jaggery issue. A Sangh Parivar activist, S J R Kumar, had gone to the High Court saying that the Travancore Devaswom Board was using 'halal'-certified jaggery for preparing 'appam' and 'aravana', the two major offerings of the temple and also its biggest money spinners. The jaggery sacks supplied by a private company, S P Sugar & Agro Private Limited, had halal certification on the outside. Kumar's contention was that jaggery prepared observing the rules of another religion could not be used in Sabarimala, which had a different set of customs and rituals.

In turn, the TDB had informed the High Court that the 'halal' certification appeared on the sacks because the company was also exporting jaggery to Gulf countries where such a certification is mandatory. The TDB also told the court that the jaggery supplies were first tested for its quality by the food safety authority before it is used in the manufacture of 'appam' and 'aravana'. The final products, 'appam' and 'aravana', are also subjected to another round of quality testing before they are offered to devotees.

(L) Jaggery, (R) A can of aravana prasadam from Sabarimala. Photos: Shutterstock/Sriram_2905, Shutterstock/ AjayTvm

Interestingly, S P Sugar & Agro Private Limited, which supplies jaggery to Sabarimala, are run by Patils and not Muslims. The company's directors are Suresh Sahebrao Patil, Sameer Suresh Patil, Sarita Suresh Patil and Swapnja Suresh Patil.

Halal means 'permissible' and a halal certificate is a stamp of religious purity attached to food products, especially meat, meant for the Muslim community. Islamic rules prescribe that animals and poultry that are converted into meat should be killed in a specific way; they should be killed in one cut and the entire blood should be drained out.

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