KOCHI ~ A suggestion by the Kerala High Court to ban toddy has had a curious fallout. The state’s excise minister K Babu stated that it was not for the court to decide what to drink. The ruling Congress and opposition CPM both share this feeling. CPM leader VS Achuthanandan warned that any move to ban toddy would have a far-reaching impact. Only the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), an ally in government, welcomed the court’s comment and demanded a total ban of all liquor, not just toddy. That’s when the communal drama unfolded.
Extracting toddy is a traditional occupation of the Ezhava community in Kerala, and the IUML’s reaction provoked Vellappilly Nadeshan, president of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP), an Ezhava community organisation, to say that the IUML is ‘communal’. He added that the party’s secular face, General Secretary ET Mohammed Basheer, is fake. In turn, Basheer said he did not need a certificate from the SNDP to prove his secular credentials.
Another caste organisation, the Nair Service Society (NSS), then got into the act. NSS General Secretary Sukumaran Nair said he supported the SNDP leader’s statement and warned the ruling party that it would collapse if it bowed to ‘communal pressures’. Kerala Pradesh Congress Commitee President Ramesh Chennithala has since made it clear that the Congress will not yield to the IUML on this issue.
Toddy is a sensitive political topic in Kerala. When the state imposed a ban on arrack in 1996, toddy was exempt, being a traditional occupation that provides employment to about 5 million. Its consumption, however, is minuscule when compared to that of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL). The total turnover of toddy in 2011-12 was only Rs 20 crore, which is less than a single day’s profit made by state government sales of IMFL.
But it’s also true that the toddy available in the market is often mixed with spirit and other lethal intoxicants. VS Sunil Kumar, an MLA of the CPI and president of the Toddy Extraction Workers Union in Thrissur, says pure toddy is healthy and it is the government’s job to stop adulteration.▪