Ordinary Indians pay price for Gandhian hypocrisy

Gujarat bans liquor as a mark of respect for Mahatma Gandhi but has failed to rein in bootleggers

Basant Rawat

Updated: July 28, 2022 10:18 AM GMT

A file image of an Indian employee at an alcohol store in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad. More than 40 people have died due to the consumption of spurious liquor in western Gujarat state earlier this week. (Photo: AFP/UCAN files)

Hypocrisy has been the name of the game when it comes to alcohol in India, particularly in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the father of the Indian nation, Mahatma Gandhi.

Any number of human deaths will not stop politicians and even the state's denizens from swearing by the Gandhian way of being teetotalers and continuing to keep Gujarat a dry state, where the law bans storing, selling and transporting alcohol.

And yet, 42 people died and 50 others remain in hospital in critical condition after consuming spurious liquor in Gujarat earlier this week.

The terrible human tragedy reported in Botad district — a repeat of the 2009 hooch tragedy in Ahmedabad in which 159 people died in similar circumstances — has yet again brought into focus the debate on prohibition.

Gujarat, since its foundation in 1960, adopted the policy of being a dry state as a mark of respect and tribute to Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi's idea was influenced by his Hindu morals and Islamic scriptures that described liquor as evil. He regarded alcohol as a social evil, capable of adversely impacting the lives of humans of all >

Let's not fool ourselves. It is time to come out of denial mode and accept the fact that Gujarat is not as dry as it claims to be

Despite more than six decades of policing, the state has failed to stop a thriving bootlegging industry. Time and again it has been proved that Gujarat's prohibition policy has been a sham, a farcical exercise.

The tragedy in Botad prompted former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela to question the futility of prohibiting liquor. Does banning alcohol really benefit people? No, said Vaghela who wants the prohibition policy to be reviewed as early as possible. He wants to relax restrictions and legalize sales and distribution to reduce illicit supplies.

Vaghela also suggested this could provide economic opportunities for the state's tribal people for whom liquor is not taboo, unlike mainstream society. Let's not fool ourselves. It is time to come out of denial mode and accept the fact that Gujarat is not as dry as it claims to be, he said.

This is true as big-time bootleggers in collusion with police and politicians have virtually turned the state into a tippler's paradise.

Only last month, a former Gujarat minister who re-joined the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed the party could win all 182 seats at the forthcoming state assembly polls if it lifted prohibition and allowed the free flow of liquor.

It may also be recalled that during Narendra Modi's tenure as Gujarat chief minister, a corporate consultant had advised him to relax the prohibition law as it was proving a major obstacle to the flow of investments into the state.

The ambitious politician that he is, Modi allowed relaxation rather selectively by allowing alcohol in Special Economic Zones and at international business events.

Political hypocrisy continues. And, Gujarat must stay absolutely dry, even if on paper, irrespective of the political party in power.

The latest tragedy comes at an inconvenient time for Modi, who is now the prime minister.

His cabinet colleague, Smriti Irani, a federal minister of women and child development, is battling charges regarding a restaurant that serves liquor, run by her young daughter in the tourists' paradise of Goa.

Opposition Congress leaders alleged several irregularities in the eatery's registration and license. It was alleged that the liquor license had been renewed despite the license holder having died 13 months ago.

What Irani seemed to forget was her own charges against the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi state, alleging its new excise policy was aimed at turning the national capital into a liquor hub making it unsafe for women.

The trail left behind by the stink of booze thus came full circle and back to Gujarat via Delhi and Goa in a rather tragic manner

The AAP had proposed to lower the age for liquor consumption, keep liquor shops open till 3 am, and allow its delivery to consumers' doorsteps.

But what must have triggered Irani was AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's allegation that illegal liquor was being sold in large quantities across Gujarat.

Modi's self-proclaimed nemesis, who has twice defeated the BJP in Delhi state elections and also trounced the Congress in Punjab state recently, in his tearing hurry to capture Gujarat, spoke the truth when he said those selling illicit liquor are enjoying political protection in Modi's home state.

Kejriwal even demanded a probe into Gujarat's trail of money generated by selling illicit booze. The trail left behind by the stink of booze thus came full circle and back to Gujarat via Delhi and Goa in a rather tragic manner.

A majority of the victims in the latest tragedy, as always, were poor people. One of the victim's relatives said the man used to clean gutters and sewage lines in the town.

What option did he have? Can anyone enter a gutter without being intoxicated? We asked him to quit several times … this dependency on liquor due to the inhuman nature of his work took his life, leaving behind his wife and three kids, the relative said.

But then, who really cares about ordinary lives. There is money to be earned in Goa and politics to be played in Gujarat and Delhi, as also elsewhere in the country.

Things aren't going to change any time soon as this is hardly the first time Gujarat's worst-kept secret has lain exposed.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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