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Liquor-caste cocktail ahead of polls

india Updated: May 15, 2008 01:43 IST
BR Srikanth
BR Srikanth
Hindustan Times
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Liquor is emerging as a major issue as two former chief ministers, BS Yediyurappa and S Bangarappa, sweat it out ahead of a high-profile battle of ballots scheduled for May 16.

Signs of an intense contest between the local liquor lobby versus the one that manufactures IMFL or Indian made foreign liquor are apparent in this constituency. There’s caste angle too – battle with a vertical split among people (on caste lines) over ban on ‘arrack’ (local liquor) which was clamped by Yediyurappa during his tenure as the deputy chief minister of 20-month coalition arrangement with Janata Dal (S).

The ban has irked members of the Idiga community, to which Bangarappa belongs, as they dominate the ‘arrack’ industry. Prior to the ban, it contributed revenues of Rs 20 billion a year statewide. It has also rendered scores of youth of this community jobless.

The prohibition has also spurred sale of IMFL, giving room for allegations that the previous government’s intention was to support one industry at the cost of another. It has upset the routine and budgets of agricultural labourers, who would start and end the day with a sachet of ‘arrack’ (priced Rs 13). A majority of them are now hooked to brandy at Rs 40 (250 ml) a bottle with another Rs 25 spent on bus fare to the nearest town to pick the bottle off the shelf.

Admitting that ‘arrack’ is one of the key issues during elections, Bangarappa said the focus of his campaign is to vote out “corrupt and communal” BJP leaders and support the farmer’s son (himself) who doled out jowar and rice during a drought in 2004.

In an attempt to woo voters among Idiga and Billava communities, former Union minister B. Janardhan Poojary (Congress) spoke of withdrawing the ban on ‘arrack’. Such a gaffe embarrassed Congress leaders who sought to play it down as “Poojary’s personal opinion.”

On the other hand, Yediyurappa says the battle over bottles will not rock his boat. “Who said they are angry? I have worked out a rehabilitation package for these young men. Actually, women are happy that their husbands have kicked the habit of coming home drunk at night. I don’t agree that they have switched to brandy because it is very expensive. That statement of Poojary (that ban on arrack would be lifted) will go against Congress across the state,” he said.

In this cliffhanger, the BJP leader has an edge, an indicator being massive turnout at rallies addressed by him and other colleagues in the constituency. It is here that the party could benefit most from its "betrayal card" against Janata Dal (S). However, the arrack issue has given him jitters because of the caste profile of this constituency. The Lingayats (to which Yediyurappa belongs) number 45,000 to 50,000, while Lambanis (ST) account for 35,000 to 40,000, Bovis (also ST) add up to about 12, 000, Idigas and Billavas (OBC) together account for 24,000 votes. There’s significant presence of Muslims, at 18,000.