If Biju Ramesh is worried, he does not show it. Seated behind a large desk in his spacious office in Thiruvananthapuram filled with pictures and statues of various Hindu deities, the president of the Kerala Bar Hotels Association sees a communal conspiracy behind the Kerala government's move to close all bars in the state save those in five-star hotels in less than 15 days.
The policy, ratified by the Kerala Cabinet on Wednesday, also says 10 per cent of the retail liquor stores in the state would be closed every year till there is none left by 2023. It comes four months after the state government refused to renew 418 bar licences after the Comptroller & Auditor General found them substandard.
"Of the bars which were denied renewal, at least 70 per cent belonged to Hindus. It was at the insistence of the Church that (Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president V M) Sudheeran said those licences should not be renewed," says Ramesh, a portly figure in a white striped shirt and a dab of sandalwood paste on his forehead.
If this sounds far-fetched and unsettling, that is the direction in which the discussion over the Oommen Chandy-led United Democratic Front government's steps to introduce Prohibition is being steered by certain sections.
The master of this spin is Vellappally Nateshan, the powerful general secretary of the Sri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Trust which has a significant following in the Ezhava community: he came on air soon after Chandy announced the new liquor policy to suggest if bars could not serve liquor, the Church should not be allowed to serve wine for the Holy Communion ritual.
Each of the two says he is speaking as a representative of his community or association. But they have personal stakes in it as well.
Ramesh runs nine hotels in Thiruvananthapuram which lost their bar licences in April. The new policy has dashed any hope Ramesh may have harboured of reopening the bars. He claims he has already lost Rs 40 lakh.
Nateshan owns four bars. Many others had started building hotels without any inkling of this bolt from the blue, taking loans for their projects. Even the banks won't be spared the blow.
Text: Indulekha Aravind, Business Standard
Image courtesy: PTI