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Kerala CM wins back liquor policy agenda for Cabinet

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on March 12, 2018

A file photo of Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, KPCC President V.M. Sudheeran, and Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy in Thiruvananthapuram.

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has won back for the State Cabinet the right to decide the future of the contentious liquor policy.

Significantly, this signal changes to the policy that had led hundreds of bars to shut down and saw aggrieved owners approach the courts for intervention.

TURNING TABLES

Late on Monday, a high-level meeting of the ruling coalition held here arrived at the game-changing decision by prevailing over the strong dissent from VM Sudheeran, state Congress President.

Sudheeran ended up a loner within the Congress, though coalition partner Muslim League appeared to concur without seeking to enforce it.

It may be recalled that Chandy had authored the liquor policy apparently to turn the table on Sudheeran who had endeared himself to the growing lobby of prohibitionists.

Having ridden the prohibition tiger, Sudheeran did not have much option except being seen as the most outspoken supporter of the new policy.

SANDESH YATRA

This he has been playing to the hilt through the month-long Jan Sandesh Yatra that he had taken out through the State and which ended here just the other day.

Rahul Gandhi had attended the grand finale in Thiruvananthapuram but was reportedly baffled at the extent of the rift between the government and the party in one of its few remaining bastions.

Gandhi’s visit had capped a series of events in which even the High Court had on more than one occasion rapped the government for its flip-flops on the policy.

The Chief Minister himself knew the impracticality of a phased prohibition, which triggered war cries from the strong liquor lobby that controlled a major source of revenue for the perennially cash-strapped government.

COMPROMISE DEAL

Closing down of the bars in batches and declaration of a dry day on Sundays proved the last straw for the tourism sector, another major revenue earner for the state.

The government also faced strong protests from lakhs of bar employees/workers, at least 10 of which committed suicide after losing their livelihood.

The significance of these was not lost on the Chief Minister who was merely waiting to give it back to Sudheeran a second time.

This he achieved after engaging the party president, who had just finished his Yatra, reportedly in a strong verbal exchange at the stormy meeting on Monday.

He did this by making Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala play the interlocutor to suggest that the issue be referred back to the Cabinet for closure.

This was the compromise deal that prevailed at the end but Sudheeran had demanded that his strong dissent should also be made public.

Published on December 16, 2014

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