Analysis

Is BJP following the RSS agenda?

A Hindustan Times front page headline on September 13 reads: “States set for Alcohol Revolution”. The report says: “The Centre is set to give up its control on the manufacture of whisky and wine, a long-pending move that will finally allow states to hand out brewing licences. Experts say the transfer of this regulating power could give domestic brands a new high apart from reducing prices of potable alcohol and greatly incentivising small breweries.”

I feel if RSS has any sense of responsibility towards the nation, it should immediately convene a meeting to study its implications. It should seriously ponder the question: Is the BJP government following only the communal agenda of RSS and is ignoring its economic agenda altogether? Or has the RSS been taken into confidence telling them that while an alcoholic revolution may not be fitting in the RSS scheme of things, a plan to turn alcohol production domestic may very well be in compliance with its Swadeshi plank?   

Ironically, Prime Minister Modi hails from a state which is one of the few where Prohibition is still in force, largely on paper, if not fully in practice. But the corporate agenda has become so overwhelmingly close to his government that it hardly cares for religious and cultural sentiments of the vast majority of the people (and, of course, their health), which is against alcoholism. Unfortunately, for the Hindutva lobby, Hindu culture is more about doing things that irk Muslims rather than following the religious morality preached by Hinduism, which is often not much different from the morality preached by Islam. A few weeks back, the BJP government also backtracked on its promise to ban pornography on Internet.  Following are some of the important findings related to alcohol consumption in India, according to T T Ranganathan Clinical Research Foundation, Chennai:

* Alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing in developing countries like India since the 1980s. 

* 62.5 million alcohol users are estimated in India

* Per capita consumption of alcohol increased by 106.7% over the 15-year period from 1970 to 1996. (It has surely increased much more in last decade, but I could not find the data)

* Due to its large population, India has been identified as the potentially third largest market for alcoholic beverages in the world which has attracted the attention of multi-national liquor companies.

* Sale of alcohol has been growing steadily at 6% and is estimated to grow at the rate of 8% per year.

* About 80% of alcohol consumption is in the form of hard liquor or distilled spirits showing that the majority drink beverages with a high concentration of alcohol.

* Branded liquor accounts for about 40% of alcohol consumption while the rest is in the form of country liquor.

* People drink at an earlier age than previously. The mean age of initiation of alcohol use has decreased from 23.36 years in 1950 to 1960 to 19.45 years in 1980 to 1990.

* India has a large proportion of lifetime abstainers (89.6%). The female population is largely abstinent with 98.4% as lifetime abstainers. This makes India an attractive business proposition for the liquor industry.

* Changing social norms, urbanisation, increased availability, high-intensity mass marketing and relaxation of overseas trade rules along with poor level of awareness related to alcohol has contributed to increased alcohol use.

* Taxes generated from alcohol production and sale are the major source of revenue in most states (Rs.25,000 crore). It has been cited as a reason for permitting alcohol sale.

* Four states - Gujarat, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland - have enforced prohibition.

* Profiles of clients in addiction treatment centres in 23 states (including states with prohibition) showed that alcohol was the first or second major drug of abuse in all, except one state.

* Large amount of revenue is generated from sale of alcohol. Yet, the hidden, cumulative costs of health care, absenteeism and reduced income levels related to heavy alcohol use are higher. These costs were estimated to be 60% more than the revenue generated in a study from Karnataka.

According to another study, India: Alcohol and public health by Dr Vivek Benegal:

* The prevalence of current use of alcohol ranged from a low of 7% in the western state of Gujarat (officially under Prohibition) to 75% in the North-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.

* Repeated observations have documented that more than 50% of all drinkers satisfy criteria for hazardous drinking. The signature pattern is one of heavy drinking, typically more than 5 standard drinks on typical occasions.

* Alcohol related problems account for over a fifth of hospital admissions but are under recognised by primary care physicians. Alcohol misuse has been implicated in over 20% of traumatic brain injuries and 60% of all injuries reporting to emergency rooms. It has a disproportionately high association with deliberate self-harm, high-risk sexual behaviour, HIV infection, tuberculosis, oesophageal cancer, liver disease and duodenal ulcer.

* A study from the state of Karnataka in South India estimated that monetisable direct and indirect costs attributable to people with alcohol dependence alone, was more than three times the profits from alcohol taxation and several times more than the annual health budget of that state. '

* The local alcohol industry, quick to seize upon this emerging market, has introduced new products such as flavoured and mild alcoholic products, aimed to recruit non-drinkers, targeted primarily at women and young men.

What medicine tells is that once a person starts taking alcohol, the level at which the desired euphoria is attained rapidly increases necessitating an increased intake. No person becomes an addict the day he or she smokes the first cigarette, or takes the first sip of bear, whisky, rum or wine; all the present addicts had small beginnings, and the ones who introduced it to them had convinced them that these were injurious only if taken in huge amounts and regularly. It is very well known that alcoholism may lead to fatal diseases like cirrhosis and korsakoff”s psychosis, and has a damaging impact on almost all the organs of the body. It disturbs the power of reasoning, thus leading to crimes, accidents and suicides. Alcohol, directly or indirectly, kills millions of people every year, destroys innumerable families and leads to countless rapes. It causes severe financial losses to well-established individuals who often get ruined on account of their intemperate drinking habits. Divorces are a common outcome, and the wives and children of habitual drinkers have to pass their lives in an environment of extreme fear, insecurity and tension. Children too often start drinking in their teens. The party culture coupled with women’s propensity to try their hands at whatever men do as a manifestation of ‘equality’ and the encouragement by men for their own rejoicing have made alcohol popular among women too.   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 November 2015 on page no. 11

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