Rerun of history in the bottle

If the latest bar scam is a recall of the KM Mani and K Babu controversy, the LDF/CPM stubbornly refuses to acknowledge it. Instead, it prefers everyone gulp down the different ‘reality’ it has meticulously fixed.
Representative image
Representative image

#Ajayan 

To be ignorant of the past is to be forever a child. The irony of Roman scholar Cicero’s words over 2000 years ago goes well with this tiny State of Kerala. Here, the repeat of a not-so-distant past is on the assumption that everyone is conveniently clueless about events from even a mere decade ago. Those at the helm of affairs do not believe in memory retention.

For the CPM - those die-hard fans of Karl Marx and his whole "history as tragedy and farce" shtick - it's apparently imperative that people develop selective amnesia. Because, clearly, everyone should just forget that around a decade ago, two Ministers from the then-ruling UDF resigned over a little thing called bar bribery. And it was this campaign against them that played no small role in the LDF victory at the hustings immediately after.

In the latest rerun of this historical rerun of the genie in the bottle, the CPM wants all to forget the Assembly's high drama a decade ago where party legislators channeled their inner stunt doubles and provided groundbreaking demonstrations in aerodynamics. All that was just to stop then Finance Minister KM Mani, accused of pocketing cash from bar owners, from entering the House to present the Budget. Mani, ever the clever one, found an alternative route, but that didn't stop the CPM from fighting tooth and nail like in a circus to defend their sacred cows of honesty, integrity and, of course, democracy.

The party once claimed that Mani had a handy little machine at home to count the Rs 1 crore bribe from bar owners. Fast forward, and thanks to the profound political theory of "no permanent friends or foes" (a mantra even the communists chant), Mani’s party, now led by his son, is suddenly no longer the enemy. As a Left sympathizer pointed out, the currency counting machine has obviously found a new home within red walls. Because in the latest scandal, we’re not talking a measly Rs 1 crore - it's much, much more. Not that inflation affects bribes too.

Representative image
Representative image

The LDF Government was positively jolted by an audio clip demanding Rs 2.5 lakh from every bar owner for a 'favourable' liquor policy. If this echoes the decade-old scandal where Rs 1 crore allegedly found its way to Mani from bar owners, the CPM is having none of it. They insist that people should flat-out refuse to see any pattern here. In fact, they should even reject the blatantly obvious truth that watering down the liquor policy—goodbye dry days, hello extended bar hours—is in the works. Because who needs consistency when you’ve got denial?

As always, the Government was lightning-fast to deny any shady deals, insisting that discussions on new liquor policies hadn’t even started. Excise Minister MB Rajesh, conveniently off on a tour abroad immediately after the scandal broke, solemnly declared that strict action would be taken against anyone trying to collect money to sway government policy. There is seriousness in the commitment as also a well-timed vacation and a sternly worded promise.

Unfortunately for the narrative, a recent tourism department meeting - where bar owners were present - did discuss changes in liquor policy. If anyone dares to ask what Tourism Minister Mohammed Riyas has to do with Rajesh’s Excise Ministry, the obvious answer is: the ways of the CPM are as inscrutable as ever. Fix up a new cocktail and keep everyone guessing!

For the LDF, the biggest comfort is that the two vocal champions of its anti-alcoholism campaign, KPAC Lalitha and Innocent, who helped swing public opinion their way after the Mani-Babu bar scandals, are now conveniently dead and gone. The party's theoreticians and 'Kumarapillais' have the magical ability to transform liquid into liquor and still insist it’s just liquid. They’ll fervently claim the LDF is committed to weaning people off the bottle, even though the number of bars has skyrocketed from a mere 29 to a whopping 801 since Pinarayi first took office. The anti-alcoholism campaign can now be spread even through a bar on every corner.

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