A former MLA in Rajasthan died on Tuesday after fasting for a month demanding a ban on the sale of liquor in the state, triggering a blame game between the BJP government and the Opposition over responsibility for the death.
Doctors at the Sawai Man Singh Hospital in Jaipur said Gurcharan Chhabra (65) passed away at around 4.30 am, a day after he was admitted to the intensive care unit.
He was admitted to the hospital a fortnight ago but continued his fast, the doctors added.
“He had gone into coma and was put on ventilator support on Monday,” said Dr Ajit Singh, the hospital’s additional medical superintendent.
Chhabra had launched what would be the last of his many agitations demanding total prohibition as well as strengthening of the Lokayukta in the state from October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi who had turned the fast into an effective weapon against the British.
Though deaths during such symbolic protests are rare, Chhabra is not the first in India to succumb during an indefinite fast. Nigamanand Saraswati, a Hindu seer, had died in 2011 on the 115th day of an indefinite fast seeking end to illegal mining from the Ganga in Uttarakhand. Another religious leader had died last year also for the same cause.
Chhabra’s death came two days ahead of Manipur’s iconic protester Irom Sharmila completing 15 years of fasting to demand the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which is blamed for human rights violations by security forces in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir.
The death of Chhabra, a member of the now-defunct Janata Dal who was elected to the state assembly in 1977, saw the opposition Congress holding the government responsible.
“Had chief minister Vasundhara Raje met him once and persuaded him to end his fast then Chabbra could have been saved,” former chief minister Ashok Gehlot said.
The BJP shot back saying it was the Congress which had lifted a ban on prohibition in 1981 when its government under former chief minister Jagannath Paharia was in power.
“Chhabra was also on fast two times during the Congress government led by Gehlot. Why did he not fulfill Chhabra’s demands then? Chhabra would not have died if Gehlot had accepted his demands when he was the chief minister,” BJP state president Ashok Parnami alleged.
In a statement, the state government said it had accepted and implemented 90 per cent of the Gandhian’s demands.
The BJP’s ideological mentor, the RSS, said it supported the Chhabra’s demand and demanded a complete ban on liquor in the state.
Activists say that the easy availability of liquor including country-made hooch was responsible for the economic ruin of a large number of families, besides resulting in anti-social activities.
Data made available by the excise department showed that in 2014-15, the state consumed 1,903 lakh bulk litres of beer, 1022 lakh bulk litres of Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) and 1924 lakh bulk litres of country liquor.
Lok Sangharsh Morcha, an umbrella body of civil societies, said it will step up its campaign for total prohibition across the state.
Insiders in the hospitality industry, however, said that prohibition would deal a severe blow to the flourishing tourism sector in the state which sees lakhs of visitors, a large number of them foreigners, arrive in Rajasthan every year.