People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 29

July 19, 2009

GUJARAT


Poor Dalits In Modiís Hooch Trap


Babulal Likhure


NEARLY 150 people, mostly poor dalits and labourers or both, had to pay through their lives to prove that prohibition policy in Gujarat is just a cruel joke under chief minister Narendra Modi. Gujaratís main city sought to be show-cased by Modi as an ideal investment destination saw the death of so many people over one week after drinking illicitly brewed country liquor that is freely available despite almost 50 years of prohibition in the state. Ironically, many of the victims were residents of Maninagar, the assembly constituency of chief minister Modi who boasts of running a clean and efficient administration. But Modi didnít bother to visit any of them, neither in their shattered homes nor in the hospitals where they breathed last. Modiís indifference to these victims of hooch tragedy is totally in contrast with his almost immediate presence at the hospitals after last yearís bomb blasts killing 56 middle class people in Ahmedabad. He had also air-dashed to Mumbai last November when the operations to flush out the terrorists were on with full live coverage of the television channels. But the same Modi, so compassionate towards victims of tragedies, just ignored the deaths of 150 people close to his own constituency.

The reason is not far to seek as Modi knew pretty well which side of his bread is buttered. He knew well that the hooch tragedy is the direct result of revenue from the bootlegging network shared by the police force which he has used only as instruments to harass and humiliate the stateís minorities. The hooch tragedy has totally exposed the callousness of Modi who promised to protect the people against terrorism but hopelessly failed to control the death trap laid for the poor by his own brigade of corrupt police force in league with the well organised bootlegging network. The magnitude of bootlegging network under Modiís rule can be assessed by the fact that the killer brew continued to be sold in the labour colonies of the city for at least three days after the first deaths were reported on July 7, 2009. Since the victims of the hooch tragedy were poor dalit labourers, Modiís administration and police alike just did not take the situation seriously.

Even as more and more people with complaints of stomach ache and vomiting, the first symptoms of liquor poisoning, continued to pour in into the cityís hospitals, the police confined their action only to count the dead and writing the medico-legal cases instead of seizing the still undistributed pouches of the killer brew.  The other thing the police indulged in was to try and convince the reporters that many of the ill people coming to hospitals are not exactly hooch victims but feigning illness in the hope of getting government compensation whenever announced. This contention of police, if true, acknowledges the existence of people in and around Modiís constituency for whom getting hospitalised is a lucrative proposition if only that brings them some monetary benefits later on. To add insult to the injury, the hooch victims being primarily dalits they have also been shunned by the stateís voluntary organisations which tumbled over one another to extend a helping hand to the earthquake affected people in 2001.

The hooch toll is more than double of last Julyís blasts in the city, but there is no trace of outrage among the middle class living in the affluent up-market areas. The token protests against bootlegging activities have been confined only to the localities inhabited by the dalits in the old city. To give the devil its due, for once the Congress in the state has activated itself over the issue but Modi has flashed his trump card at them by quickly appointing a judicial commission to probe the tragedy.  Every protest of the Congress --- whether inside the state assembly or in the streets --- is being countered with the argument that a judicial panel has been appointed on the matter. Congress too was quick enough to trace the source of the killer hooch to a BJP leader in Mehmedabad town, south of Ahmedabad.

The BJP vehemently denied its corporatorís involvement in the hooch distillation and distribution, but ultimately the brewing centre was traced to the same place. But some others were arrested. In face of adverse media publicity, the police conducted statewide raids on liquor dens in which more than 8,000 people were arrested. The quantum of arrest signifies the extent of the bootlegging network in the state which swore by prohibition for half a century since the state was formed after division of the then Bombay state.