TWO-FACED AP­PROACH?

India Today - - COVER STORY -

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

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