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Friday, Dec 09, 2022

AAP candidate’s liquor take dilutes party stand, BJP hopes enough to recover from hooch death after effect

Come elections, prohibition politics to the fore again, few voices seek lifting of ban.

Jagmal Vala (left) is AAP's candidate for Somnath Assembly seat in Gujarat's Gir Somnath district. (Photo: Twitter/@jagmalbhaivala)

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has come under attack in Gujarat after a video went viral earlier this week purportedly showing Jagmal Vala, the party’s candidate for Somnath seat in the upcoming Assembly polls, telling a campaign meeting that liquor per se was not bad. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) immediately took aim at the AAP, while downplaying Vala’s long association with itself.

As Vala evaded media, the AAP distanced itself from the former’s remarks, terming it as his “personal view”, even as the BJP, which had drawn fire from the AAP over the hooch tragedy in Botad and Ahmedabad in July this year despite the state’s prohibition law, seized on the row to train its guns on the AAP.

In the video, Vala is purportedly seen arguing that nowhere in the 196 countries of the world is there total prohibition on alcohol. “One can consume liquor in all of these 196 countries, in the entire world. In India, the population is 130 to 140 crore and one can consume liquor in the entire country but in Gujarat, whose population is 6.5 crore, there is a prohibition law in force. This proves that liquor per se is not bad, it is not. (Problem is) liquor consumes us whereas actually liquor is for our consumption. If we consume liquor, liquor is not bad. But the problem is that liquor consumes us,” Vala is seen purportedly saying in the clip, adding that “If you have capacity, you consume liquor. Big doctors, IAS, IPS officers consume liquor.”

In its reaction, the BJP charged that Vala’s statement betrayed the AAP’s real character, asking why the AAP government in Delhi allegedly allowed liquor vends near schools.

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Indranil Rajyaguru, the AAP’s national joint secretary from Rajkot, called Vala’s statement his personal view, insisting that the party’s official stand is “strictest enforcement of prohibition law in Gujarat as promised by Arvind Kejriwal.”

While phone calls and messages by The Indian Express to Vala didn’t elicit any response, it is for the first time that the politician from Gir Somnath district is in so much spotlight during his over three-decade-long public life. A native of Paldi village in Veraval taluka of Gir Somnath district, Vala had started his political career by joining the Janta Dal in early 1990s. But as the Janta Dal later merged with the Congress, Vala joined the BJP and went on to become the party’s Veraval taluka unit president.

“Vala used to abide by the party discipline while in the BJP. Then, his personal ambitions took over. He wanted to contest the 2012 Assembly election from Somnath. But BJP preferred to repeat sitting MLA Rajshi Jotva instead. Therefore, Vala quit BJP and contested poll that year as an Independent,” says a senior BJP leader from Saurashtra.

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The 2012 Somnath poll was won by the Congress’s Jasa Barad, who defected to the BJP in 2014 and won the subsequent bypoll. In the 2017 polls, however, the Congress’s Vimal Chudasama defeated Barad. “Vala had been close to late Jasubhai Barad during Janta Dal years. Jasubhai then joined Congress. In a sense, Vala again followed him as he worked for Chudasama in the 2017 election,” the BJP leader adds.

Vala, 57, joined the AAP in May this year. On August 3, he figured on the first list of 10 AAP candidates for the Assembly polls slated for this year-end. “He is the state vice president of AAP Gujarat. He fought 2012 Vidhan Sabha election as an Independent candidate and secured 23,000 votes,” the party then stated while giving Vala’s introduction.

Vala, who had dropped out of school after completing Class IX studies, runs a transport business. In his affidavit filed for the 2012 Assembly election, he had declared his assets to be worth more than Rs 20 crore and his income to be Rs 1.54 crore and that of his wife’s to be Rs 80,904 for 2011-12.

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Five criminal cases were registered against him in Gir Somnath during 2000-2006, when he was a BJP functionary. The cases included attempting to murder a polling staff during the Veraval taluka panchayat election in 2006, three cases of illegal mining and one of threatening a doctor at a government hospital and indulging in rioting.

Delhi Chief Minister and AAP supremo Kejriwal had come down heavily on the Gujarat government over the Botad hooch tragedy, accusing the BJP of being hand in glove with liquor mafia in illegal trade worth Rs 10,000 crore. The principal Opposition Congress also hit out at the BJP even as the latter attributed the loss of 40 lives to consumption of a “chemical” stolen from an Ahmedabad factory.

Kejriwal has been promising in his campaign that if the AAP comes to power in Gujarat, it will end illicit liquor trade in the state and send those involved in it to jail.

Meanwhile, Gujarat AAP president Gopal Italia Friday sought to stake the party’s claim over the prohibition narrative again. Addressing a press conference in Botad, Italia blamed the BJP for allegedly ensuring that the anti-liquor law remains merely on paper, citing a number of reports about the BJP leaders’ alleged involvement in possession or consumption of liquor or in illicit liquor trade. He also charged that the company from where the alleged chemical used for brewing country liquor was taken has still not faced any action and that a Botad BJP leader allegedly involved in the incident was also not arrested till date. He alleged this showed the BJP’s involvement in the spurious liquor trade.

The Congress also targeted the BJP dispensation over the Botad hooch deaths, with top party leader Rahul Gandhi questioning it over the “business of spurious liquor” and the protection given to such “mafias”.

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The Gujarat Congress leaders, such as Sukhram Rathva in the past, have alleged that the BJP “profits from illicit drug and liquor smuggling” in the state to fund its election campaigns.

In June this year, as the BJP reinducted an ex-party minister Khumansinh Vansiya into its fold, he created a stir by calling for lifting of the liquor ban in Gujarat. He said if the BJP promised to end the liquor prohibition, it could win all 182 Assembly seats in the state polls. Vansiya later said his comment was personal and not that of the party.

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The BJP, which has always publicly defended the alcohol ban policy, has however been left red-faced multiple times, especially when the party workers or leaders have been caught consuming alcohol. A recent example came from Surat, from where videos of two BJP leaders drinking liquor surfaced. In Chhota Udepur, a BJP leader resigned after a video of him dancing in an allegedly inebriated state surfaced.

Veteran leader and ex-CM Shankersinh Vaghela has however consistently opposed the prohibition policy. He has maintained that the policy “exists only on paper in Gujarat”, charging that the rich have the option of getting health cards made to avail liquor legally while the poor are forced to buy illicit hooch. In his poll campaigns, he has pledged the scrapping of the policy, claiming tat it could yield an annual Rs 30,000-40,000 crore revenue for the state.

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In the run-up to the 2017 Assembly polls, the then Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) president Bharatsinh Solanki had urged the Election Commission to “seal” the bordering areas and deploy observers on borders of adjoining BJP-ruled states to check the possible inflow of liquor at the alleged behest of the ruling party.

Also, in 2017, the then fledgling political outfit Smart Party had also announced its support for lifting of the prohibition policy on the ground that it was adversely affecting Gujarat’s potential in tourism and other sectors.

The constitutional validity of the Gujarat Prohibition Act remains under challenge before the Gujarat High Court since 2018, even as no hearing has taken place in the case for nearly a year.

The first hint at the prohibition of liquor was given through the Bombay Abkari Act, 1878. This Act dealt with levying of duties on intoxicants, among other things and aspects of prohibition via amendments made in 1939 and 1947. Following the reorganisation of the Bombay province into the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat in 1960, there was continued amendment and liberalisation in Maharashtra, even as Gujarat adopted the prohibition policy since 1960 and subsequently chose to enforce it with greater rigidity. In 2011, it renamed the Act as the Gujarat Prohibition Act.

First published on: 25-09-2022 at 09:33:55 am
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