Jan 30: The much appreciated cabinet decision to allow wine sales at grocery stores and Supermarkets of over 100 sq. mts., has brought the delWine crusade of two decades of the government not categorising wine as liquor, in open in the key wine producing state of Maharashtra and the meaningless controversy by the opposition parties has forced the politicians on both sides to debate widely. Subhash Arora reports in this Blog
A war of words has erupted between the ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) and the opposition- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the government declaring that wine is not liquor and allowing (only) wine sales in walk-in shops and supermarkets. The progressive decision has already inspired Karnataka to follow suit and might even force the Delhi government to re-look at its excise policy and allow the sale of wine and beer in the department stores, a successful policy it discontinued a couple of years ago.
MVA is at loggerheads with the opposition party BJP, with the former chief minister and leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis saying the government was converting Maharashtra into Madya-Rashtra, a nation of liquor. (Unfortunately, BJP still pretends it does not comprehend the difference between wine and liquor-editor.)
Congress leader Sachin Sawant said the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh under Shivraj Singh Chouhan had taken a similar decision that covered not only wine made from grapes, mead, fruits and flowers, but all kinds of liquor. ‘Our neighbouring state has already become Madya Pradesh under the BJP CM,” Sawant tweeted, wondering if the BJP had a strategy to oppose liquor while in opposition and promote its consumption when in power. Once again, it may be pertinent to clarify to our foreign readers that India is a Federal Republic and each state forms its excise policy on liquor independently.
Sanjay Raut, The Rajya Sabha MP from Shiv Sena, of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi government, has defended the cabinet decision announced on Thursday, saying wine is not liquor. "Wine is not liquor. If wine sales increase, farmers will benefit from it. We've done this to double farmers' income. BJP only opposes but does nothing for farmers,” Raut has said asserting that those opposing this decision are anti-farmer.
While making the decision public, Minister for Skill Development Nawab Malik had said, "The decision was taken to give a boost to fruit-based wineries which provide additional income to farmers."
Bandatatya Karhadkar, a leader of the Warkari religious sect has sarcastically congratulated the government and urged it to introduce wine in the midday meal scheme in schools instead of nutritious food. DelWine would like to direct Karhadkar to our Article of 15 January, 2022 When French Children were allowed to drink Wine in School Canteens. In fact, it seems ironic that when the Indian Constitution written in 1949 sought to totally ban alcohol in India, French wine culture was so strong that even children were allowed to drink wine in school and in fact, it was actually a part of their tiffin till 1956.
Sambhajirao Bhide who heads the right-wing Shivaprathisthan Hindustan, attacked the government and called this decision “shameless, anti-national, anti-religion, immoral, and dangerous.” Guruji added that he would request Governor B.S. Koshyari to dismiss this government.
Raut countered, “Is there a liquor ban in the country? Wine is produced from a range of fruits such as grapes, guava, chikoo etc. This decision by the state government will give farmers higher returns and help in elevating their economic status. The critics of this decision should understand the economics behind it,” while exhorting the BJP-led government at the Centre to also take such decisions courageously to help the farmers who were unable to market them effectively. (though the current debate is about wines made from the grapes cultivated by the local farmers).
‘BJP MP Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur has also said that wine is medicine & advises to drink it in small quantities,” said Raut. Earlier, on January 20 she had supported the party leader Uma Bharti’s demand for liquor ban in Madhya Pradesh. “As per Ayurveda, wine works as a medicine if consumed in a limited quantity,” she had said then. In fact, Drakshasava (Draksha and similar names are common as Ayurvedic tonics) and known to have fermented grapes as a key ingredient.
BJP leader Gopichand Padalkar has launched a scathing attack on Raut, asking him to make an assurance that wines made in Maharashtra only will be sold in supermarkets and walk-in shops, accusing MVA leaders of holding secret meetings with international wine manufacturers.
Media reports do not clarify whether the decision is aimed to ensure a more accessible marketing channel for all wines or only Indian wines-or only Maharashtra wines. Jagdish Holkar President All India Wine Producers Association, which had taken up the issue for over a year, says his understanding is that not only Indian wines but imported wines will be allowed but one has to wait for the Gazetted Notification.
The sale of all wines or at least all Indian wines, makes perfect sense. The objective as stated is to help only the wine industry, it should allow sales across the full spectrum of wines for the customer to take benefit- the total sales, including Maharashtra and Karnataka wines will pick up and the excise revenue on imported wines will be an additional bonus. Otherwise, it would be frustrating for consumers looking for wines but finding only a fraction of the choice available at these supermarkets.
Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar has also highlighted the difference between Wine and Liquor. The difference must be categorically clarified to the general public, he said. His uncle, The NCP leader Sharad Pawar who has been Chief Minister on three occasions and also a Minister with the Central government, has family interest in grape growing and is seen as a friend of the Maharashtra wine industry, deserving a lot of credit for its development. He has been on record several years ago, stressing that wine is not liquor and the healthy lifestyle drink to be consumed with food, must be encouraged as an industry providing jobs to farmers and weaning away consumers from harmful spirits with much higher alcohol.
Karnataka may follow
Meanwhile, taking a cue from neighbouring Maharashtra, the Karnataka government has also started thinking of allowing sale of wine in big stores and supermarkets, and in the process, give grape growers a distinct advantage. At present, only registered wine stores are allowed to sell wine in the state. It is the second largest grape grower in India, behind Maharashtra and is fast expanding as a wine producing center.
Do not drink and drive
Whether you buy your wine from a Liquor shop or a supermarket, the same rules apply for drunken driving. Mumbai Police has joined in the current debate. In reply to a tongue-in-cheek tweet by a denizen, the Mumbai police tweeted: Sir, we recommend you raise your bar & ride in a chauffeur driven car, after drinking, like a ‘responsible citizen’. Else if the breath-analyser detects the alcohol content in the wine you drank, you will have to be our guest behind the bars.
The Maharashtra government needs to be applauded not only for supporting the grape farmers but also for helping to use fruits that would go to waste otherwise. All policies ought to differentiate wine (and possibly beer) from liquor- the farmers, producers and consumers will all benefited from this progressive decision, the mandatory opposition notwithstanding. The smaller producers will be particularly thankful as their survival has been at stake and now they can hope not only to survive but prosper as well.