Yet another controversy has erupted in India, and for once it doesn’t involve land disputes or religious conflict. At issue is the boastful statement made by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who during a recent visit to Assam, stated tea would be labeled India’s national drink by April 2013. Assam is well known as the heartland of tea production in Northeast India.
This declaration isn’t sitting well with Amul, India’s largest food brand and producer of milk and milk related products. Managers of the multi-billion dollar company, based in Gujarat, believe milk should be the national drink.
“Milk is the world’s original energy drink for all age groups and for all healthy nations,” says R S Sodhi, managing director of Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF). He adds, “There is no need to declare anything. Everybody knows milk is the national drink. Nobody in India has declared chapati and rice as the national meal but they are.”
India’s national insignia reads like a greatest hits list of the country’s most notorious symbols. Bengal tigers represent the national animal, peacocks are the national bird, delicious mango is the national fruit, the delicate lotus is the national flower; the list goes on. One item missing from this roster is a national beverage, a drink that all India can be proud to enjoy knowing it represents the taste of the country.
The push to declare tea as the national drink of India by April 17, 2013 would coincide with the 212th birth anniversary of the first Assamese tea planter and Sepoy Mutiny leader Maniram Dewan. He was among the first indigenous tea planters in the county.
Assam Tea Planter’s Association (ATPA) Chairman A.R. Kasera said that tea is the cheapest beverage in the world after water and is the second largest employer of the organized sector after Indian Railways.
Complicating the argument is the fact that India is the largest producer and consumer in the world of both black tea and milk.
So what’s really at the heart of this controversy? Brand image and bruised egos. Two powerful industries, both with the finances and marketing teams to wage a year long war if necessary. Each side has much to gain from earning status as a national drink. For now, the battle wages on.
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