The State and the Evil of Drink

V.R. Krishna Iyer

Kerala is perhaps the “most drunken State” in India, with its per capita consumption of liquor rising by the year. The government, of course, benefits from its monopolistic business arm, the Kerala State Beverages Corporation. The governmental pursuit seems to give the beverages some level of “respectability.” Of course the arrangement provides jobs to a number of people in the public sector, but it also makes more young people taste the so-called delights of the drink than would have been the case otherwise.  

To set the record straight, it must be stated at the outset that this is not to question or attack the powers vested in the state to regulate any trade in the manner it deems fit. But this is a trade where the turnover tempts the customer to take rolling trips into the realm of the jocose, the lachrymose and then the comatose. Many a fracas, felony, road accident and incident of street violence start with alcoholism. Most rapes and sex crimes happen after intoxicating sip after sip of the liquid. Terrible crimes are committed by drunkards. The jocose first sip, the bellicose second sip, the lachrymose third sip… And with the final gulp you become comatose and lie down somewhere, often not knowing where. If this happens at home, the wife gets beaten if she protests. With much of the income spent on the stuff, the family often ends up bankrupt. Instances of hospitalisation owing to the drink evil seem to be on the rise in the State.  

On whom does the blame rest? The State that grants liquor vends and bar licences rarely investigates this aspect. But liquor can be seen to violate the fundamental right of the citizen to travel around in peace, have friendly association with others, and live in fraternity.  

Why do even Marxist governments make people bankrupt by granting easy licenses to clubs with liquor-dispensing bars attached to them? I entreat on bended knees that the government’s executive wing be rid of this alcoholic curse. And as Morarji Desai had wanted done, judges should be asked to swear not to drink and they should be dismissed summarily if found guilty of habitual alcohol consumption. 

In holding almost a monopoly in the sale of these beverages, Kerala is in the company of neighbouring Tamil Nadu, which not only manufactures but vends liquor as a monopoly. The business profits from alcohol consumption belong to the State. Who will dare dismiss a government for violating Article 47 of the Constitution? For there are complicated political equations involved.  

Gandhi is dead. So too is Rajaji, who as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu had implemented a prohibition policy successfully. Even now it can work a la Gujarat. Malabar under Madras had a prohibition policy. It is fair to note that Tamil Nadu is also selling life’s essentials through ration shops at a fraction of the market price effectively. Many of the poor can live on thanks to this measure. In Kerala, however, alcoholism and market prices go on without any control. 

President Pratibha Patil said at a public meeting that Kerala is plagued by alcoholism. I would add this: the State will perish by alcoholism. The State is ruled by the Left Democratic Front, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), but only Marxism that is free from the plague of alcoholism will ultimately survive. 

Alcoholism is an unmitigated evil and when it becomes a habit, multiple pathological consequences follow. Criminals and goondas with violent habits have a vested interest in liquor. It is ironic that our governments have become dealers in alcohol, handling the Big Business as a state-run enterprise. 

Recently the District Collector of Kozhikode made an attempt to stop the sale of alcohol in liquor shops in the district on the eve of a major festival. It proved successful and ensured peace to the people. But he possibly fell foul with a powerful lobby, and soon found himself transferred out.

When Nehru was in power, Indian Embassies and High Commissionerates were asked not to serve liquor at Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations. The Embassy officials wrote to New Delhi that many local guests may not attend if there was no liquor being served. Nehru promptly replied that if our National Days can be celebrated only if alcohol is served and people are only fascinated by the liquor that is served, then we had better not hold such celebrations.

The one politician who was above and against this vice was Morarji Desai. He introduced dry days on wage payment days and on festival days.  

This terrible curse has proved ruinous, and Morarji’s wisdom must be enforced as sternly as he did particularly vis-a-vis judges and higher bureaucrats. Wedding celebrations and religious festivals, Deepavali and Onam, should be declared dry days. So far as liquor consumption is concerned, the Centre, if it believes in the Constitution and in particular in Article 47, should force the States to practice prohibition. It can succeed as Rajaji and the Madras State did, and Gujarat still does. Political parties in their election manifestoes must promise dry days to save the working class and ensure domestic peace. Alcoholism is a national enemy and our import policy must ban foreign liquor.  

All great men were free from alcoholism: they range from Bernard Shaw to Mahatma Gandhi. From Vedanta to Islam and every faith which is committed to dignity, decency and sobriety has advocated this, too. Some artists, like musicians and poets, have violated this virtue and drunk themselves to death. Byron, for instance, wrote:  

“Man, being reasonable, must get drunk;

The best of life is but intoxication.” 

If the elimination of poverty and bankruptcy will constitute patriotism, the highest priority to implementing this principle should be given to an absolute ban on alcoholism. The issue of dry days read in the light of Article 47 arose came up the Supreme Court at the instance of the liquor lobby. The case was decided by the court in support of the abolition of alcoholism, in 1978 3 SCC 558. That ruling deals exhaustively with the negative aspects of alcoholism as a national disaster. 

I hold drink to be more damnable than thievery and perhaps even prostitution. Is it not often the parent to both?

Government revenue from drinking should be swept out and liquor shops should be abolished. We should re-declare our faith in undiluted prohibition. If I were appointed a dictator for an hour for all of India, the first thing I would do would be to close without compensation all liquor shops and destroy all toddy-producing palms. This nation will perish with the drinking bowl with atrabilious liquor because the powerful lobby can purchase the politician at any price to do away with dry days and flood the youth with liquor until blood colours streets and homes red.