Toddy issue may create a polarisation of sorts

KOZHIKODE, DEC. 27. The ongoing agitation by some organisations of farmers demanding exemption of sweet toddy (neera) from the provision of the Kerala Abkari Act is likely to acquire a new political dimension in the State, besides creating a polarisation of mainstream political parties in its stand towards the new liquor policy.

# The issue has brought to the fore a rift in the Congress on whether to continue with the existing provision of the toddy cooperative societies or to auction toddy shops to individuals. The Congress would have to seek new measures in this regard to keep the party united.

# Likewise, the powerful interest groups, including the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, will have a difficult time in stepping up pressure against the movement of the farmers.

# Farmers, under the banner of the Farmers Relief Forum (FRF), have already started their agitation in various parts of the State. Over the days, the organisation has been able to intensify the strike with the farmers opening toddy parlours defying rules.

# The strike has gathered momentum with the arrest of the FRF chairman, Mr. A.C. Varkey, while attempting to sell toddy at Nadavayal in Wayanad. He was remanded to judicial custody on Saturday. He was shifted to the Government Hospital at Mananthavady and later to the Kozhikode Medical College.

# It is learnt that the farmers are tapping and selling sweet toddy through some select centres in all the districts. Toddy is being sold at Cherupuzha in Kannur, Thiruvambady and Kodencherry in Kozhikode and Nadavayil in Wayanad.

# Plans are afoot to spread the novel agitation to all parts of the State. ``Farmers have been compelled to take their own measures to come out of the crisis. But that doesn't mean we are against toddy tappers,'' one of the strike organisers said.

# Meanwhile, noted human rights activists and cultural leaders have condemned the State Government's move to suppress the agitation of the FRF which is demanding legalising tapping and selling of toddy in the State.

# At a meeting held here on Wednesday, former Naxalite leaders and cultural leaders, including Mr. Civic Chandran, Mr. O.K. Johny, Mr. T.K. Ramachandran, Mr. A. Vasu, Mr. P.A. Pouran and Mr. P.T. John, decided to form a sponsoring committee to express solidarity with the movement.

# They have also sought the support of various cultural organisations, farmers' organisation and voluntary agencies in the agitation.

# An ad hoc committee has been formed with Mr. P.T. John as convener and Ms. K. Ajitha, Mr. A. Vasu, Mr. Anthakrishnan and Mr. Thomas Abraham as members. A two-member committee comprising Mr. Civic Chandran and Mr. Tommy Abraham has been formed to prepare a draft for chalking out strategies to give the agitation a wider appeal.

# This draft will be presented at a meeting of toddy tappers and farmers to be held here on January 5. The political leaders, Mr. V.M. Sudheeran and Mr. V.V. Raghavan, have been invited for the programme. The problems of the farmers and the toddy tappers would be discussed at the meeting.

# In fact, the meeting has been fixed prior to the KPCC executive meeting on January 8. To coordinate activities among the various farmers' outfits, a conference of the 12 organisations under the auspices of the FRF was held at the Shanta Bhavan Hotel here.