Raees, the Shahrukh Khan starrer, in a way is a blow on the governance, and questions the ability of the Gujarat government to put an end to the state’s illegal liquor trade.
In the movie, the prologue pegged the illegal liquor business in the state at Rs 25,000 crore, and went on to mention that had it not been for Raees (the protagonist played by Khan), the business wouldn’t have been so big.
Raees, allegedly is based on the life of Gujarat’s most dreaded mafia don, Abdul Latif, a bootlegger who ran the illegal liquor business like an organised crime syndicate. The movie throws up larger societal issues.
The Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949, has been in force in Gujarat from 1960, and continues. The state is also the only one, which has a death penalty if someone dies from consuming homemade liquor. The Act was amended in 2009, and called the Bombay Prohibition Bill, after many died after consuming methyl alcohol.
Smuggling and manufacturing liquor is a common in Gujarat. That is an irony, considering that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is quite vocal about ending the country’s corruption, could not stop the illegal liquor trade. He was Gujarat’s chief minister from 2001 to 2014.
The size and scale of the illegal liquor business is evident as draws Bollywood’s attention.
To put Gujarat’s illegal liquor trade in perspective, Rs 25,000 crore is the total deposit if all accounts under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna is added up.
Social activist Medha Patkar told a national daily in early January and that the Rs 56,000 crore liquor business in India has not allowed state governments to efficiently implement the ban. Talking about Gujarat, she said that “lack of political will has not enabled society to get the law implemented.”
Patkar added that Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have weak anti-liquor laws.
Raees, too, shows the bootlegger-gangster’s deep connections with the political party in power and the administration. In one instance, in the movie, Khan asks the chief minister of the state to remove Nawazuddin Siddiqui, an honest cop.
While there are many movies, which shows connections between gangsters, politicians and policemen, Raees has a different impact. It talks about a large organised crime syndicate, running for years.
The police, over years, have not been able to crack down on illegal liquor trade in Gujarat. Meanwhile, as the Prime Minister, Modi went ahead with demonetisation, an economic situation that weeded out 86% of the country’s currency notes bringing about the largest cash crunch in world history, and called it an act against corruption.
Coming back to Gujarat, liquor is delivered on-demand by “folders”, petty bootleggers who pick up the bottle from a larger bootlegger (who works like a larger distributor) and delivers it at home or a mutually convenient location.
Khan allegedly plays the role of the Abdul Latif, the feared gangster who was so powerful that promising his downfall helped BJP gain prominence and power in Gujarat. Latif, as a daily suggested, was the most hated name in Hindu households in the early 1990s.
Haren Pandya, a BJP politician, in 1993 told voters, “when you go out to vote, don’t forget Latif,” and he won the elections. BJP formed the government in 1995 in Gujarat.
Latif was arrested that year, Keshubhai Patel, then the chief minister of Gujarat, was called the “Hindu Hriday Samrat”. Two years later Latif was shot dead in an encounter. That’s also where Raees, the movie, ends.
Two decades later, Latif is folklore, but his death didn’t bring an end to Gujarat’s illicit liquor trade. It has only grown, and Latif’s legacy continues, now eternalised in a film.
The movie has already grossed over Rs 100 crore in less than two weeks on the box office. Few raised questions about the prologue, which quantifies the illegal liquor business of the state, through a syndicate that involves politicians, criminals and the administration.