Prohibition – Gujarat style; and all are tipsy!
BY RK MISRA
One swallow is a singleton but two do not a summer make. Likewise, sip, swallow or gulp, one is not enough. But two in a tub can’t turn soggy wet into bone dry!
The toast of the country is Kerala. And Gujarat is celebrating. It has company. Many have come and gone but Gujarat has walked straight and steady all along, over six decades. You know why? Because we in Gujarat don’t drink and drive other people nuts. We do it in the cool comfort of out homes. And quietly go off to sleep. Thats the secret of our endurance and off course, success!
The intracacies of the booze business in Gujarat would require a bookful of balladry. A column corner wedged in an Indiawise space competition would hardly suffice. Nevertheless a few vignettes to enhance the taste if not fulfill your appetite should be in order. Born dry, liquor consumption in Gujarat is a non-bailable offence. And yet the state leaks liquor like a sieve. It is available aplenty-the brand you require, wherever you require and in the quantity you require provided you pay through your nose. It includes brewery ranges, from the mighty scotch to the base level whisky and the rural country (desi) to the urban ‘hooch’. Amongst urbanites, consumers are divided into regulars clients and floaters. The regulars have their set bootleggers doing home delivery with mobiles and watsap as handy tools. The floaters have to go to the ‘addas’.
Country liquor is a rural cottage industry. It is brewed in a village for the consumption of the local population or those of nearby villages, largely people known to each other so the raw material is either grains, fruits or even vegetables, pure and secure. The tribal brews like mahuva also fall in this category. Again, available a plenty. Then comes the poor urbanites’ bane, the deadly ‘hooch’. This is the one largely known to turn killer and endanger not only lives but governments as well. The erstwhile chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi who is now the prime minister learnt this to his dismay, days after a vanglorious boast that moonshine deaths had died with the Congress governments in Gujarat. Soon after, in mid-2009, Modi and his government which was in a mood to partially relax liquor prohibition in Mahatma Gandhi’s Gujarat, beat a hasty retreat when 150 people died after consuming illicit liquor in Ahmedabad while the Vidhan Sabha was in session. As city hospitals were flooded with the dead and dying, Modi known to go on the offensive when cornered, moved swiftly to appoint a Judicial Commission of Enquiry and pass amendments in the relevant Act that would invite upto death sentence for hooch deaths. This eased the pressure. The bootleggers were soon back to business as usual, the report of the panel stands rendered redundant for delayed delivery, not a single bootlegger has ever been sent to the gallows and Mr. Modi is now the Prime Minister. All is well that ends well and life continues to rotate on it’s unlubricated axis!.
The eternal among the optimists still hope for a Prohibition-free Gujarat. After the era of Gandhian chief ministers ended with late Babubhai Patel, there seemed light at the end of the tunnel when the then chief minister Madhavsinh Solakki set up the justice MN Miyabhoy Commission to review Prohibition in the state in 1981. It submitted it’s report in 1983. It flattered only to deceive the hopefuls. His report ripped apart the nexus between the cops and the bootleggers leading to the creation of the filthy rich, institutionalized ‘baron bootlegger’ and recommended a virtual clampdown.
Liquor prohibition in Gujarat is, by conservative estimates, a Rs. 30,000 crore annual turnover illegal industry with linkages to go from roots to shoots and right upto the very top. No bootlegger can practice his craft without permission from the area police station and the actual sale to hafta ratio is closely monitored by the cops. He must also apportion for the occasional raids by higher ups and there are unofficial ‘vahivatdars’ (administrators) who ensure that everyone up and down the chain from a particular police area gets his due.
What was the margin of profit in bootlegging?. According to the submission before the Commission by some top police officers then, it was nine times the actual investment and according to some even twelve times.” Atleast no other trade in this part of the state yield such high percentage of profits”, it noted.
Pointing to the nexus with the politician, Justice Miyabhoy stated “the illgotten wealth of these persons had given them the status of not only respectable citizens but also as leaders in the economic, social and political life of Gujarat. I have enough evidence before me that police officers collude with bootleggers”, he stated. This was in 1983. Today, 2014, over a quarter century later, things are the same, may be even worse. The bootlegger is more tech-savvy and the police and the politician much more brazen! And yes, the law abiding citizen who keeps a liquor permit must still pay many times more, taxes, high costs and all while the freelancer makes merry at half the price even less.
And yet, if you ask an average family man-even one who himself drinks on the sly-his views on prohibitions, the answer nine out of ten times will be a forthright one. Yes, he or she, wants Prohibition in Gujarat. Why? Because the police and politicians are happy with their ‘paisa’, the sod with his swig and the bootlegger with his booty. And the womenfolk are content that the drunk go home and sleep for fear of the cops instead of creating a nuisance on the roads as happens elsewhere in the country. So it’s a win-win situation for all. But remember-At the end of the day, the innkeeper loves the drunkard but not for a son-in-law!