Toddy order leaves parties high on religion

Religion

Last week, the Kerala High Court suggested that the UDF government consider winding up the state's toddy business to prevent the huge amount of spurious liquor sold through toddy outlets. Kerala may enjoy the dubious reputation of being India's drinking capital, but among those protesting the loudest were political parties — and split right down communal lines.

The Indian Union Muslim League was the first party to demand that toddy be banned based on the high court's proposition. The demand immediately raised the hackles of the Hindu Ezhava community that, incidentally, has been traditionally engaged in the toddy business, including tapping of coconut tree.

Prominent community organisation Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam said it saw in the demand a strategy to economically weaken the Ezhavas.

Now the debate was firmly on communal lines, with the upper-class Hindu organisation Nair Service Society throwing its weight behind the Ezhavas. The NSS even warned the government of dire consequences if it succumbed to the IUML. The BJP soon was singing the same tune.

None of the parties was interested in the point the high court had actually raised — of the large quantities of fake liquor on sale in Kerala. The state's 5,193 toddy shops sell about 7 lakh litres of toddy a day while production is about 5 lakh litres. You do the math.

This isn't the first time an essentially law-and-order problem has got identified with a particular community in Kerala, tying the government's hand on decisions. If the huge hawala business in money from the Gulf is associated in the public mind with Muslims, the illegal occupants of forest land along the Western Ghats have strong support among Christian groups. Government chief whip P C George even put his weight behind those encroaching forest land at Nelliyambathy recently.

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