#Air India the national air carrier of India is in the news for the wrong reason. The airline announced on Monday that passengers on its domestic flights would now only be served vegetarian food. Meaning no non-veg food to be served. The move has led to severe condemnation by many. The spokesperson of the airline GP Rao has been reported by Times of India of having said that the change was made strictly to “reduce waste and cut costs”.

Debt-ridden

The airline is debt ridden and such a step by any other airline outside India would probably not invite uproar. But in India, since the coming to power of Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the move has grave implications.

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The BJP's, main support plank is Hindutva and since most Hindus are vegetarian the action is interpreted as discriminatory. The minorities, mainly Muslim and Sikhs, are predominant meat eaters.

Backlash

The action of Air India has resulted in a tremendous backlash. A Bangalore-based Chef Madhu Menon tweeted,“Only veg food on Air India, next, flight attendants to speak only Hindi. After that, stand for the national anthem before flight take-off.” Many have supported the move and saying it is a simple #Cost Cutting exercise and cutting non-veg meals could lead to a saving of 1.2 million dollars annually.

In India what you eat is often linked to religion, thus the simple decision to serve only veg meals has led to a widespread belief among minorities that they are being marginalised. Minorities in India, mainly Muslims, have interpreted the ban as another example of discrimination against them.

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Many Muslims have been persecuted over allegations that they were transporting or eating beef.

An example is an action in the state of India’s most populous state Utter Pradesh. The government cracked down on Buffalo slaughterhouses this year. Though buffalos are not considered sacred the ban on slaughterhouses is seen as an appeasement to the Hindus and an attempt build a vote bank.

Future

Air India's decision makes good business sense. The airline has debts amounting to over $8 billion and the government has taken a decision to sell its stake and privatise the airline. Unfortunately, there are not many buyers in the field mainly because of the massive debts the company has piled up. Air India was the brain child of Jamshedji Tata who conceived and started the airline, but after independence, the airline was nationalised and the Tata’s thrown out. Many feel this was a blunder and are hoping the Tata’s will return to run the airline.