From Nikkam to Yogi Adityanath: Why vilification of the majestic biryani needs to stop

From biryani to poha, food items have suddenly become part of the political discourse. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath recently accused his Delhi counterpart (and the AAP) of supplying biryani to the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protesters in Delhi's Shaheen Bagh.

"Why a Pakistani minister is making statements in support of Arvind Kejriwal? Because he knows that only Kejriwal can feed biryani to protesters in Shaheen Bagh," the UP CM was quoted as saying by ANI.

Now, this statement could have worked well in a metaphorical sense, but the party couldn't leave it well enough alone. Soon, BJP's Amit Malviya was tweeting proof of biryani being served at the protest site.

The evidence, in case you were curious, consisted of two photos of solitary individuals eating from small foil cartons.

But this did get us thinking. And we decided to take a look back at how the humble biriyani has evolved from a food of convenience in Mughal times to a defining symbol in Indian politics.

One of the first times the food item found itself part of the general news discourse was when Mumbai terror attack convict Ajmal Kasab allegedly demanded mutton biryani. The detail had come from Ujjwal Nikam, the public prosecutor in the case, who later admitted that he had made up that little gem. Kasab "never demanded biryani", he later revealed.

"I concocted it just to break an emotional atmosphere which was taking shape in favour of Kasab during the trial," he was quoted as saying.

And while one can commend Nikam's understanding of how the media or public sentiment might work, it is impossible to ignore the fact that a man duty-bound to uphold the Indian Constitution vilified Kasab further by deliberately spreading misinformation.

This incident also served to put the biryani on the map, so to speak. It was now in the minds of politicians as a potential topic with which to target opponents and critics. To be fair though, it is not just politicians who now take umbrage over the food item. In December 2019 for example, an Uttar Pradesh man was beaten up by three others for selling biryani, allegedly over his caste.

Coming back to politics however, let us take a look at a few other events:

In 2013, Narendra Modi, then the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate, had lashed out at then PM Manmohan Singh and the UPA and accused the government of sharing "chicken biryani" with the Pakistani Prime Minister, even as Indian jawans died at the border.

"What is the reason that Pak soldiers kill our jawans on the border and the govt in Delhi cites protocol to feed the Pak PM biryani," Modi was quoted as saying by reports.

But this comment, in a way came full circle, after Priyanka Gandhi said that the Prime Minister had lost touch with the ground, and also managed to mention eating "biryani in Pakistan".

Speaking to India Today TV in 2019, she said, "Your policies have no connect with the ground. Your feet don't remain on Indian soil. You went to America and Japan. You played the drum in Japan, ate biryani in Pakistan. You are flying."

In another recent incident, in 2018, AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi locked horns with then BJP chief Amit Shah, this time over beef biryani.

Shah sparked this particular debate by stating that K Chandrasekhar Rao had been sending biryani to Owaisi.

The latter hit back saying that he hadn't been aware that Shah was fond of biryani.

"If he is jealous that Owaisi was fed biryani and not him, then we will send him Kalyani biryani. We can send him a parcel. If someone else is eating why is your stomach aching? You can eat too,” he was quoted as saying.

Now, it is not a far stretch to opine that the carnivorous nature of the food item definitely plays a role, when it comes to its politicisation. Take a mid-2019 dinner hosted by Amit Shah for example. Amongst a host of other items, veg biryani (which does not always manage to distinguish itself from its close cousin, the pulao) featured prominently.

Of course the biryani battle is not just political.

Swiggy's most ordered dish for three years in a row, the dish also varies from region to region.

From Awadhi biryani to the Hyderabadi variety to the Kolkata Biryani and more -- it would seem that almost every part of the country has a take on the dish. And naturally, most would argue that their variant is the best.

One simply has to take a look at this recent thread to understand what we're talking about.

We'll leave you with a bit of trivia about one of these varieties:

Bengal's take on the biryani did not begin with potatoes in the dish. Reportedly, the exiled Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh found himself in Kolkata after being dethroned by the British. And while he did have a large entourage to cater to his whims, his resources were slim. The addition of potatoes and the mild spices were a result of frugality, as his chefs attempted to add 'meat' to the dish.

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