alcoholism. “Prohibition is impractical in a state like Kerala,” Vijayan says. “The LDF is committed to promoting abstinence...but it has no intention of telling the people what they should or should not drink or eat.” Incidentally, the LDF now has Sachin Tendulkar as brand ambassador of the state anti-liquor and drug abuse campaign.
Neighbouring Tamil Nadu, where the pre-election buzz had all parties promising at least a partial liquor ban, saw J. Jayalalithaa announce the closure of 500 of the 6,776 staterun liquor vends, on May 23, the day she was sworn in. Since then, though, despite sporadic protests, things have moved slowly on the prohibition front.
Everywhere though, anti-bottle crusaders are making themselves heard. Like in Maharashtra, where prohibition is in force in some districts, finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar even turned down BJP MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha’s invitation for cocktails. “How can I attend?” Mungantiwar apparently asked a red-faced Lodha. “My voters look at me as a champion of prohibition.” Mungantiwar had made prohibition in his tribal-dominated Ballarpur constituency (Chandrapur district) a big poll issue two years back.
In Madhya Pradesh, the opposition Congress party has hit on prohibition as a plank for the 2018 assembly polls. The party has lost three elections in a row and failed to find traction with the Vyapam scam issue. “Alcohol abuse is an issue dogging every family, especially in rural areas. Prohibition is a recurring demand whenever I tour the state, especially from women,” says state Congress president Arun Yadav who has asked party workers to support agitations against liquor. BJP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan doesn’t have a positive view towards drinking but does ‘tolerate’ it. Asked about prohibition recently, the CM said “it was not the answer to the problem of alcoholism”. State finance minister Jayant Malaiya says, “We want to take the awareness route to make people quit...prohibition isn’t a practical solution.” On the face of it, Nitish’s relationship with prohibition looks absolute, but look a little closer and things already seem to be cracking. For one, while the CM has been relentlessly demanding a nationwide ban on liquor, his government has offered a tax holiday to liquor manufacturers in the state. In a cabinet decision on September 27, the government waived all taxes plus bottling fee and export duty for liquor manufacturing units. Bihar already has nine of them, and the new rules are clearly intended to attract more such facilities. The decision could be called pragmatic, aimed at retaining the liquor manufacturing units, and the resultant jobs, as many beverage companies had been looking to move out post-prohibition. But considering Nitish’s political posturing over the last six months, it seems a bit hypocritical.
Meanwhile, Bihar’s anti-liquor drive, which begun with much enthusiasm in April, has also been flagging of late. There was the hooch tragedy on the night of August 15, when at least 16 people died in Gopalganj after consuming spurious liquor, and now there is the more serious charge of