(Prof. P L Vishweshwer Rao): The euphoria among the people of Telangana of having won a separate state of Telangana after decades of struggle is slowly dissipating thanks to the short-sighted and anti-people decisions of the State Government headed by K C Chandrashekar Rao. The very same people who voted the TRS to power, stood by the party, buttressed it with all their might, faced lathis, teargas and bullets all seem to have gone in vain. The disillusionment of the people, of the average citizen, is all too evident. Their dream of ushering in a ‘golden’ Telangana has all but disappeared in thin air.
Within a short period of just about a year, the true anti-people colours of the K Chandrashekar Rao government have been revealed dashing to the ground the huge expectations of the people of their ‘very own’ government that it would convert its promises into action. Instead of giving land and houses to the poor, instead of making available free education, instead of creating of employment opportunities, instead of making the lives of his ‘akka-chellendlu’ and ‘tallulu’ meaningful and a little more comfortable, he has roped in the state machinery to increase the consumption of liquor among the masses, basically the poor, by making available liquor at cheaper rates.
Already the poor are groaning under the widespread social crisis they are facing caused mainly by the enslavement of their men to liquor. Across the rural and urban areas, the men of the poorer class, due to their addiction to liquor, don’t work regularly; if they work, they blow up their meagre earnings on liquor and thus deprive their families of basic necessities. Besides, in their drunken state or to force the women to handing over their earnings to buy them liquor, let loose violence on their women and children. There are any number of instances of men resorting to all kinds of criminal and anti-social activities to feed their liquor addiction: while some force their children to beg, others sell off household goods and even rations such as rice; yet others resort to stealing. The effect of such addiction and anti-social behaviour takes a disastrous toll of the health and well-being of the men and leaves a permanent impact on the psychological, economic and emotional health of their families.
Initially, the Telangana government planned to follow the Maharashtra model of supplying low-priced liquor in sachets and even sent a team to Maharashtra to study it. When this move of the government generated criticism across the spectrum of society, the government trotted out the excuse that actually the new policy of the government was meant for the good of the people as it would wean them away from the illicit distilled liquor or gudumba, as it is known in these parts, that had become a danger to the health of the men and women who consume it. When this explanation was greeted with scepticism, the government then said that what it meant by ‘cheap liquor’ (a term that it used and has now become popular) was that it would reduce the prices on the legally available liquor (Indian-made Foreign Liquor) by reducing the taxes so that the health of the addicts would not take further hits by their consumption of low-priced illicitly distilled liquor that sometimes even killed people when the potent mix turned lethal due to addition of harmful chemicals to give an extra ‘kick’. In fact, the government says with much indignation, that its ‘good intentions’ of weaning away the men from gudumba would result in a loss of Rs16 crores per month as the government was reducing the prices of the ‘safe’ liquor by waiving VAT and other taxes on these drinks. Some of the losses would be partly offset with increased sales due to the lower prices, argues the government.
Addiction to liquor hits the women hardest which is why it was the women of Dubakunta in Nellore district of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh that launched a unique movement against consumption of liquor in 1991 that was used by Telugu Desam Party to return to political power by assuring total Prohibition. The then CM N T Rama Rao introduced Prohibition but subsequently, his son-in-law N Chandrababu Naidu had no compunctions in lifting it saying it was difficult to implement.
This time around too, it is the women who have responded with anger at the Telangana government’s decision to facilitate spread of ‘cheap’ liquor. Already several women’s organisations have launched agitations across Telangana in protest. During my interactions with women of lower stata in both rural and urban areas, they unequivocally identify their menfolk’s slavery to liquor as the root of all their problems. They want the government to ban liquor so that their men and domestic peace can be saved. “Let the government take away the cheap rice scheme. We will live with that but let the government ban liquor, we beg the government,” said a group of women when some of us organised a programme against the ‘cheap liquor’ policy of the government. The women pointed out that in the villages, the distribution of liquor is far more efficient making it far more easily and widely available than milk.
Here lies the tragedy of the government decision on cheap liquor: its priority is to not to supply water or milk or education or health care at cheaper rates, of better quality and widely accessible to the poor who need these desperately. Rather, it has prioritised sale of liquor at cheaper rates. Ironically, it has given its policy the spin of philanthropy, namely to prevent deaths due to consumption of spurious, chemical-laden liquor. But what about the deaths of hundreds of infants, children, old people, the sick and new mothers who languish and die a slow death due to lack of availability of quality and low-priced nutritious food and medicare, thousands of young girls dying during or after child birth due to lack of medical help, thousands of people in fluoride-afffected areas in Nalgonda district who are born deformed, stunted and even are mentally retarded. Despite 68 years of self-governance these citizens of Telangana continue to drink literally poison daily as safe water is not accessible to them. By any count, deaths and suffering from these causes far outnumber the deaths due to illicit liquor.
Why are these issues not an issue with the government of Telangana? because they are the issues of the lesser people? Why doesn’t the government revive the government schools and hospitals that are being allowed a die a slow death, depriving the poor of their only chance to minimal education and low cost medicare? The government will not throw the schools and hospitals a lifeline but in the name of doing ‘good’ to the poor, in the name of safeguarding their health and future, the government will give them access to low-priced liquor. Yet we know only too well that addiction takes a huge toll on the poor, leading to their ruination. But since the massive revenues generated from liquor business keeps the government in robust financial health, a little deception does not harm, seems to be the thinking of the government. Therefore, even as it ensures that low-priced liquor is available to the poor in a well-organised, efficient network of legal and illegal outlets, it is planning to launch a massive propaganda programme of dance and music programmes against consumption of liquor and propping up the propaganda with promised health centres that will screen addicts for liver disease and cancers of various kinds that are the bane of alcoholism and counsel the addicts.
Does this government even know its basic duties towards its people? Has the government become the enemy of the people from being its keeper? What is this policy of inflicting wounds on the people and then organising treatment for the wounds? Is the government confused or wants to confuse the people? Can it confuse all the people all the time? It should remember that a people who have put the government in power can also remove it. A people who have risen against injustice and discrimination during the long struggle for separate statehood, a people who created history by rising against feudal oppression during the Communist struggle of the 1940s can rise again to protect themselves and their families. Won’t the government learn anything from history? If it doesn’t ,then it will inevitably reap the consequences of its foolhardiness.
(By Prof P L Vishweshwer Rao, former Dean, Osmania University, Hyderabad and chairman of the Steering Committee of the All-party Struggle Committee against cheap liquor)