It is peak summer in Seemandhra and Telangana and you would think water supply is high on the list of demands of voters ahead of the elections, until you run into some at public meetings and road shows and realise they are high on other liquids.
Liquor, it seems, is flowing freely as voting day for the simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls nears. Candidates are offering so much to drink that men, young and old, and even women are having a gala time, so much so that they end up making complete fools of themselves in public.
Parties that are in do-or-die battles are wooing voters by offering them whatever they want and liquor is on top of the list. And unlike in the past, liquor distribution is no longer confined to the “local organiser” of a candidate surreptitiously paying for a few drinks or a couple of cartons of cheap whisky bottles at the corner shop for the supporters of his boss.
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Now, when candidates go to campaign, their sidekicks give paper slips to men and women. The name of the liquor shop and the number of bottles to be given is mentioned on the slip. The number depends on how important the voter is. The candidate on whose behalf the slips are issued settles the bill presented by the liquor shop at 11 pm every day.
And depending on the number of candidates in the fray, voters carry loads of these slips in their pockets and don’t stop drinking even if they have reached their limit. Since it is free, and since they will get more slips tomorrow, it is mass binge drinking.
If a road show or a public meeting is to be held at a particular location, liquor slips and a Rs 500 note is passed on to voters to ensure their presence. The situation becomes amusing when the arrival of the candidate is delayed.
“Those who have gathered have already finished their bottles and their interest in waiting for the public meeting starts to wane. So another round of paper slips is passed. The more the delay, the more paper slips,’’ said B Ravinder, a cable TV operator who was mobilizing “supporters” for TDP Lok Sabha candidate K Rama Mohan Naidu’s road show in Srikakulam town.
Spirited voters have often been seen losing their sense of decency in public, including men with their lungis coming off but clutching bottles and plastic glasses staggering around asking why others are staring at them.
At a TRS public meeting in Nalgonda, a group of drunk youths kept interrupting TRS chief K Chandrasekhara Rao. They initially cheered KCR lustily but then started heckling him. KCR first asked them to stop the “Jai Telangana” slogans so that he could resume his speech, then realised the youths were demanding something else and snapped at them.
It transpires the local CPI leader had promised to pay them Rs 70 each for attending the meeting but paid only Rs 40 after deducting the liquor cost. The peeved youths decided to heckle none other than KCR. When KCR snapped at them, they had a good laugh and left the stadium.
At Chilakaluripeta in Guntur district, a delay in the arrival of Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy saw the Kala Bhavan centre filled with drunk men by 8.30 pm. Their lungis were falling off, and they were staggering around in public, falling, pushing and shoving each other. By the time Jagan arrived past 9.30 pm, most had passed out on the road, in the parking area and in front of closed shops.
A BJP activist who came to check out Y S Vijayalakshmi’s meeting at Jalaripeta, a fishing community colony in Visakhapatnam, said skilled and semi-skilled workers had stopped working after campaigning started.
He said candidates of all parties including the BJP were doling out cash and liquor bottles every day and so electricians, autorickshaw drivers, plumbers and construction workers, among others, had stopped working.
“They don’t need to. Whoever is campaigning in their areas on that particular day ensures what is needed is supplied early in the morning. They just sit back and enjoy. If today it is my turn to treat them to cash and liquor, tomorrow it is the other party’s candidate’s turn and so it goes on,’’ he said.
Police say they have seized over one crore liquor bottles during checks and raids across the state this election season. An election observer in Visakhapatnam said candidates were spending lakhs of rupees every day to keep voters happy and they do it without ever being linked to it.