Like our mothers, Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss knows what’s best for us. The bidi, with its unfiltered tobacco in a tendu leaf delivery system, is even more harmful than the much-reviled cigarette. So in his finite wisdom, good doctor Ramadoss wants people to run away each time they see a packet of bidis. His strategy: to have a statutory skull and bones mark on every bidi packet. Unfortunately, the Health Minister is a bit raw when it comes to politics. Otherwise, how could he have not considered that with the Jolly Roger scaring bidi-smokers away, lakhs of people employed in the bidi industry will be out of jobs and languishing on the streets.
Thankfully, there are men like Pranab Mukherjee who are more concerned about people than people’s health. The pipe-smoking Mr Mukherjee, whose Lok Sabha constituency, Jangipur in West Bengal happens to be a large bidi producing area, has assured a delegation of leaders that he will persuade the Prime Minister to hold on to Mr Ramadoss’s barmy plan till a panel comes out with its report on the matter. That Jangipur happens to be a Muslim-dominated town is only incidental in Mr Mukherjee’s astute observation that the depiction of bones will hurt the sensibilities of Muslims — as they bury their dead.
So why doesn’t the cigarette industry benefit from leaders as concerned about people as Mr Mukherjee? After all, lakhs of workers are also employed there. The answer: cigarette manufacturing companies are not humble entities like their bidi counterparts. For the government to stop extracting every ounce of ‘sin tax’ from every cigarette sold, cigarette companies should downsize and take on a cottage industry persona. A cigarette constituency will invite political patronage. Then watch Mr Ramadoss fume.