Toddy policy leaves leaders tipsy

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, JUNE 16. The Nayanar Government's toddy policy appears to have left leaders of all political persuasions a bit tipsy. The leaders seem to be groping about to find their way out of the toddy imbroglio, very much like a bunch of tipplers.

When the LDF came up with the new abkari policy, of which the policy for the toddy sector was a component, the then LDF convener, Mr. V. S. Achuthanandan, had defended it as one that would benefit the marginal retailers and toddy tappers who would be able to supply pure toddy to the consumers.

At that time, he did not also mince words when criticising big timers like Mr. Vellappally Natesan and the negative role they played in the liquor industry.

At the time, the UDF was all objections to the new policy and the toddy workers' cooperatives formed in pursuance of it, the criticism being that it was meant to line the pocket of CPI(M) cadres and fill the coffers of the party.

But the Assembly election results appear to have brought about very interesting changes in both perceptions.

Today, Mr. Achuthanandan holds the view that the change in the abkari policy effected by the Nayanar Government was flawed since it had hurt the interests of toddy retailers and their employees and feels that it was one of the major reasons for the LDF's defeat in the Assembly polls.

On the other side of the spectrum, the UDF which had promised in its election manifesto that it would dissolve the cooperatives if it came to power is today not all that sure whether that is really what it should do.

Mr. Achuthanandan spent quite a while at his "Meet-the-Press" programme at the Press Club here on Friday to explain how the Nayanar Government's policy for the toddy sector had cost the LDF dearly in the polls.

It was certainly not his case that the toddy cooperatives should be dissolved and he was clearly making out a case for protecting the interests of small-time contractors and their employees, but had little to say on how that could be done.

He should have been aware that he was treading dangerously close to the UDF's original position that the cooperatives should be disbanded.

That the UDF is divided on the subject is clear from the strongly-worded statement by Mr. V. M. Sudheeran, MP, against any attempt to dissolve the cooperatives.

Church leaders, who are strong benefactors of the Congress and the UDF, have also made it known that they would hit the agitational path if the cooperatives are disbanded.

Their suggestion is that in the event of the cooperatives being dissolved, retail toddy sale should be left with the local bodies.

Interestingly, the CPI(M) State secretariat has also come out in very strong terms against the dissolution of the cooperatives.

The confluence and severance of interests that the utterances of political and Church leaders suggest is quite thought-provoking.

How far would the Church leaders go on with their threat to hit the streets if the toddy workers' cooperatives are dissolved? How would the UDF keep its poll promise to dissolve the cooperatives and still not antagonise the Church? Where would Mr. Achuthanandan stand when his party strongly defends the toddy cooperatives? It's going to be a thriller all the way.