Narendra Modi’s new gaffe : Bhajans reduce malnutrition !

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a few outlandish claims in the past. In 2018, he had claimed that Sanskrit Vedas have “detailed reference on Mantras, on ways & means to counter the challenges of global warming”.

In 2014, the first year of his Prime Ministership, Narendra Modi claimed that plastic surgery and genetic science existed in Vedic times. In addition to Narendra Modi’s idiosyncrasy, we can find a plethora of such comments from the BJP partymen too. Right from claiming that the internet existed in the Vedic era to claiming that cow urine cures cancer and coronavirus COVID-19, there is a wide spectrum of such statements made by right-wingers.

With such a track record, Narendra Modi has claimed, in the 92nd episode of his monthly podcast “Mann Ki Baat”, that Bhajans could cure malnutrition. Ever since the podcast was aired on August 28th 2022, there were a lot of criticisms made regarding the claim and it became news frenzy when “The Wire Science” had an article on the matter.

The article titled “Dear PM Modi: Good Food Will Reduce the Burden of Malnutrition, Not Bhajans” points out that highlighting bhajans while discussing malnutrition could be “counterproductive” and there was “neither the need for context-specific interventions nor for evidence-based policies are served by misplaced allusions to bhajans and kirtans.”

Ever since this article became viral, the pro-government sites and other English media sites started fact-checking whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi had actually said that bhajans could help solve malnutrition. In their findings, most of the sites have declared that Narendra Modi has actually not said so verbatim but his words were taken out of context.

In the 11th minute mark of his 92nd podcast*, Narendra Modi said “Can you imagine, whether song & music and bhajans can also be used to remove malnutrition? It was successfully used in Mera Bacha campaign, the Mera Bacha Abhiyan in Datia District of Madhya Pradesh” and continued with a story of how a bhajan event organized in Madhya Pradesh had used nutrition experts to explain to people about the importance of nutritious food and being healthy.

One could argue that Narendra Modi’s words were taken out of context and he actually never said that bhajans could solve malnutrition. But, there is no denying that Narendra Modi had insinuated that Bhajans played an important role in addressing malnutrition. Given the reputation that Narendra Modi has built for himself as being anti-science with his earlier statements, one cannot be blamed for interpreting that he had said that bhajans can also be used to solve malnutrition.

Even the Wire article’s aim was to highlight that Prime Minister should be talking about context-specific interventions and the need for evidence-based policies but it is misplaced by allusions to bhajans and kirtans.

According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) report, there are more than 35% stunted children, 32.5% underweight children and 19.3% wasting children. 18.7% of women have below normal BMI. Some of these indices have marginally improved compared to previous years, but that’s not a sign to be content with.

Moreover, with India’s 101st position on the Global Hunger Index in the list of 135 countries, there is a need for clear messaging without unwanted and confusing rhetoric. Apart from malnourishment, Union Government does not have data for starvation deaths either.

From 2016-17, the Union Government has underspent or unutilized most of its allocated funds for food subsidies with 2020-21 as an exception due to the pandemic efforts of the Government. In 2019-20 at just 59% utilization against the allocated Rs.1,84,220 crores.

There are only 13 states and 3 Union Territories where eggs are provided as a mid-day meal scheme and with Karnataka being the latest entrant to provide eggs it faced stiff opposition from religious organizations. It is unclear if and when other states will follow suit.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own state of Gujarat has 39% children who are stunted and 40% who are underweight. Yet, the mid-day meal scheme with eggs is not introduced in the state, risk.

With so much at stake and so much to improve upon, Prime Minister Modi should be highlighting targeted schemes and discuss implementing or learning from policies of better performing states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and should definitely not be making a rhetoric about bhajans to address malnourishment.

 

Links

*Maan Ki Baat – English version

மனதின் குரல், ஆகஸ்ட் 2022

2021 GHI report

Malnutrition-Free India

https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1781982

infant-mortality-rate

Status of IMR and MMR in India

Maternal health

india-maternal-mortality-ratio-declines-by-10-points

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Ramasamy Jayaprakash

Ramasamy works as a Senior Sub-Editor at YouTurn and writes articles in Tamil and English. He also makes videos for YouTurn's Tamil & English YouTube channels.
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