The coronavirus has afforded an opportunity to all ideologically motivated people to further their respective agendas. From the Central government to the authorities in states, everybody seems more interested in populist posturing rather than ensuring the smooth easing of the lockdown.
Left-liberals are promoting the lockdown, convinced as they are that this will increase the size and scope of government. The supposedly Rightwing government in India, sadly, is implementing the socialist agenda. Besides, it is also executing its own sanskari and swadeshi agendas by insisting on the closure of liquor shops and big retail and malls. Moral policing and anti-business attitudes continue even in the time of a national disaster.
Not to be left behind is the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi. Since lockdown extension has become an index of a government’s concern for the citizenry, the Delhi government is against any relaxation. Now competitive populism has a new element: my lockdown is longer and harsher than yours. So, the AAP regime wants clarification from the Centre as to what kind of shops can be allowed to open.
One wonders what kind of clarification is needed. In its latest order, the MHA said “all shops, including neighborhood shops and standalone shops, shops in residential complexes, within the limits of municipal corporations and municipalities, registered under the Shops and Establishment Act of the respective State and UT” will be allowed to reopen with immediate effect.
No less bizarre is the Centre’s insistence on the closure of liquor shops. As Mahua Venkatesh wrote today, “while you might have a hearty laugh when you get those jokes on how people are miserable with the ban on alcohol sale, the state authorities, which are dependent on the money earned from liquor sale, are worried as their revenues have dipped to a never-before level posing serious challenges for states” (<a href="https://indianarrative.com/uncategorized/amid-states-revenue-loss-sale-of-alcohol-should-be-allowed-1293.html">https://indianarrative.com/uncategorized/amid-states-revenue-loss-sale-of-alcohol-should-be-allowed-1293.html</a>).
This is not just an issue of the fiscal situation of states; it is also an issue—and a more important issue—of individual liberty. Democracy is premised upon letting men and women do what they want to do so long as they don’t hurt others. When government, or anything or anybody else, tries to do more than that, it becomes a case of moral policing. And moral policing is the antithesis on democracy and individual freedom.
It is a well-known fact that excessive consumption of alcohol is bad for health, financial wellbeing, family life, society, etc.; it is enough for government to caution the consumer about this fact. Doing more than that results in infantilization of adults. This is an affront to human dignity and certainly to the essence of democracy.
In fact, the government can let liquor shops open and impose a corona cess up to 40 per cent. This would bring huge sums of revenue to states, without hurting the alcohol lovers, for many of them are said to be buying bottles at massive premiums in the black market.
It is often said that the black markets function only with the collusion of cops, officials, and politicians. Is there an unholy alliance between the sanctimonious and the crooked, with the moralizers preparing the ground for the bootleggers? One doesn’t know, but the best thing is.