Chandu Zade (name changed on request) is an auto driver. He is addicted to country liquor. But it is banned in his city. “Pehale 90 ml ka pavva Rs 22 milata tha. Ab Rs 80 me aata hai,” (Earlier, I used to pay Rs 22 for a 90ml pouch, now it costs Rs 80), said Chandu, who hails from Chandrapur, the second biggest city in Vidarbha after Nagpur. “The ban has not stopped sale of liquor. But it has certainly created a new liquor cartel who sells it at a higher price,” he added.
When Newsclick reached Chandrapur to find out the impact of liquor ban on the city as well as its political impact, Chandu came as first and firm voice on the issue.
Liquor sale has been banned for almost three and half years in the district. Chandrapur is now a ‘dry zone’ among three districts that include Gadchiroli and Wardha.
The people, especially women, of Chandrapur had protested for years demanding a ban on liquor in their district. Almost 1,500 out of the 1,800 villages in the district had also passed a resolution against liquor sales. In 2013, the Maharashtra government appointed a committee to look into their demand. The committee, headed by Sanjay Devtale, then guardian minister and Congress leader, along with social activist Abhay Bang and others, had recommended a ban in three phases.
During the 2014 Assembly, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) leader Sudhir Mungantiwar had assured a carpet ban if his government came to power. Mungantiwar is now state Finance Minister and also guardian minister of Chandrapur. So, he kept his word and brought the ban.
However, Paromita Goswami, who was at the forefront of the anti-liquor agitation, blames the BJP-led state government for poor implementation of the ban. “There is no special law. How can the administration act strictly if the government has not passed a strict law to ban liquor? So, the current situation is actually a state government failure,” she said.
In fact, the government has failed to fulfill a number of assurances, such as a special Act against bail for bootleggers, special provision of auction of vehicles used for liquor transport, and even putting in place a special team for the three districts of Wardha, Gadchiroli and Chandrapur to look into liquor sales. All these assurances are still on paper, she said.
Interestingly, the issue is also impacting the current political atmosphere. The BJP’s candidate from here Hansraj Ahir, Minister of State for Home and a four-term member of Parlaiment from Chandrapur, while the Congress had earlier given a ticket to Vinayak Bangade, its activist in Chandrapur, but later changed to Suresh (Balu) Dhanorkar. This had created a big ruckus with Congress state president Ashok Chavan’s audio clip going viral where he is heard threatening to resign over Dhanorkar being denied a ticket. Dhanorkar was an MLA from Chandrapur district who won on a Shiv Sena ticket, but later switched to Congress.
Now, comes the clash point. Dhanorkar is also into liquor sale and owned four shops. Now, he runs only one shop in nearby Yavatmal district. Goswami says he is a “liquor seller”. While there is a buzz that Goswami was interested in a Congress ticket, she denied it, and said: “We will vote against the liquor seller. In a No Liquor district, a seller of it can’t be an MP. We will oppose him.” When asked whom her movement would in the upcoming general elections, she said, “We are also fed up with current MP (Ahir). But Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has given us some assurances. We believe him. So, we will vote for the party of CM Fadnavis and not for the liquor seller.”
Meanwhile, Dhanorkar said he had a certificate for his shop and it was not illegal. “I am not in a business that the state government does not permit. I don’t sell illicit liquor. So, allegations against me are false,” he said.
Everybody in Chandrapur feels that this time there is a real battle between BJP and Congress. BJP’s Ahir is from the Gawali caste and Dhanorkar is a Kunbi, which has about four and half lakh votes on the area. The Congress is also trying to consolidate all non-BJP forces. But the stand taken by the anti-liquor group against the Congress candidate may have some impact on the outcome.
In the Bihar Assembly elections in 2015, Nitish Kumar could win a large chunk of women votes because he had assured them of a ban on liquor if he returned to power. In their recent book ‘The Verdict’, India’s pioneer in psephology, Prannoy Roy, and co-author Dorab Sopariwala, have put forward a detailed analysis of ‘voting patterns of women’ in India. According to them, women’s voting percentage has increased and rural women, compared with urban ones, choose their MP with an independent mind, without listening to their husbands or other family members.
Chandrapur is a semi-rural constituency. A large number of women of had participated in the anti-liquor movement. Whether this will reflect in the electoral outcome, however, remains to be seen.