Ahead of civic polls, BJP makes Delhi’s new liquor policy primary election issue

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NEW DELHI: With less than three months left for civic polls in the national capital, the BJP-led municipal corporations are at loggerheads with the AAP-ruled Delhi government over the new excise policy that they allege allows for the opening of new liquor shops in residential areas. Leaders within the BJP believe that this drive against liquor vends could become a major poll issue raised by the party, in its attempt to counter anti-incumbency.

A senior state BJP leader, requesting anonymity admitted that the protests against the excise policy were an attempt to arrest what some see as a fading campaign. “Our internal survey has not been very encouraging but we have successfully launched drives against the ‘illegal’ liquor vends in all these wards,” he said.

The leader said that while the BJP battled anti-incumbency in the municipal corporations, there was also an acceptance among people for the AAP in terms of its “freebies”. “We couldn’t deliver much in the last five years, due to the high-handedness of our top party honchos and the consequent voices of dissidence among the grass-root workers. This drive is the last option left for us to save the BJP’s citadel in the coming municipal elections,” he said.

When contacted, Delhi BJP president Adesh Gupta said his party’s protest against the AAP government’s new excise policy will continue in all three municipal corporations, till all the liquor shops, allegedly violating municipal laws, are sealed. “Most of the shops do not comply with corporation’s rules. Also, many of them are in close vicinity of religious places or schools. We will protest against all such shops, to show the ‘real’ motive of the Delhi government, before going to the municipal elections. I am sure that people will never vote for AAP in those wards, where the Delhi government has opened such vends,” he said.

Echoing similar views, South Delhi Municipal Corporation mayor Mukesh Suryan said many such shops have already been sealed in South Delhi. “The overwhelming success of BJP’s ‘chakka jam’ on January 3 indicates that the AAP’s design has been exposed,” he said.

East Delhi mayor Shyam Sunder Agarwal and North Delhi Mayor Raja Iqbal Singh also said that following frequent complaints from several religious organizations and RWAs, corporations have sent notices to several such shops.

Refuting BJP’s allegations, senior AAP leader and party’s in-charge for MCDs, Durgesh Pathak, said that the BJP is trying to blow the issue of liquor vends out of proportion, and ignite “communal sentiment”. “But, it will not create any impact as people of Delhi are now well-acquainted with their poll designs,” he said.

Pathak further said that the new policy, which has already come into effect, is aimed at increasing government revenue, improving the consumer experience at liquor shops and reducing corruption. “If the BJP had some objection, they must have raised it before its approval from the Lieutenant Governor. The basic aim of this liquor policy is to redistribute liquor shops in an equitable way. Earlier, there were many municipal wards, where in the absence of authorised liquor vends, bootleggers and illegal shops were ruling the roost,” he said.

Political observers said that BJP stood to gain little with the agitation against the new liquor policy of the Delhi government. Political analyst and psephologist Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), said that the BJP’s anti-liquor policy drive will not yield any positives for them in the coming polls. “Such issues hardly make any impact in any election, which is fought on core issues like education and development. If the present political scenario across the three MCDs is any indication, the AAP is much ahead of other parties there. These petty issues will not reduce those margins,” he said.

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