Poll panel takes fizz out of Holi events

Lucknow, March 15 :

The colours will be there, so too would be the bonhomie. But what could well go missing at Holi gatherings organised by political parties would be freely flowing liquor and bhaang as the Election Commission of India (ECI) is all set to play spoilsport.

The first phase of the Lok Sabha poll is to be notified March 15 and barely two days later is the festival of colours March 17.
The poll panel has set its sights on the `Holi milan’ functions that are a must in the Hindi heartland.

( A super Holi pic by wishpicker.com )
( A super Holi pic by wishpicker.com )

Special teams have been set up to keep a close watch on these dos where almost all politicians gather and hug the people, promising them a better life.

Liquor, bhaang, flow freely at the events, where political parties and supporters pull out all stops to make the day a memorable one.

With elections around the corner, these Holi events can also be used by political parties and groups to lure voters, feel election commission officials.
“The ECI has a clear view on the matter. Any event or function that witnesses distribution of freebies, gifts, and is used for campaign is against the model code of conduct and will invite reprimand,” a senior election official told IANS.

Politicians confide in private that these Holi milans are “electorally very fruitful”.

Not so this time, as more than 20 poll panel teams are in the state capital alone to keep an eye.

The poll panel will also be maintaining a strict vigil on the flow of liquor on Holi.
Bacchus lovers are angry at the strict checking of liquor shops around the state on the election commission’s instructions.

Officials say a control room has been set up specially at the state excise department headquarters in Allahabad to keep a watch on liquor consumption in the run up to the general poll.

Director General of Police (DGP) Anand Lal Banerjee concedes that liquor in the poll season is seen as a great dole by politicians and hence is on the radar of the police and excise department.

Joint teams of the excise department and police are on highways and stationed at important places.

“Special teams of police have been put in place for checking liquor movement,” he added.

Liquor vends across the state have been listed and a report of the bottles of various brands of wines, whisky, rum, vodka and others is being sought on a daily basis, said an official.

“Any erratic and unusual fluctuation in sales at a particular shop or area or district” is an alert for us, said an election commission official.

Umesh Sinha, chief electoral officer of Uttar Pradesh, said: “Free distribution of liquor has been a complaint during elections and we are extra vigilant this time.”

Earlier this week, several hundred litres of liquor was seized in transit.

Liquor vend owners rue the diktat and say that frequent checking by police and election commission flying squads were deterring liquor lovers in this festive season.

Statistics support the claims. Last year on the two days preceding Holi, in Lucknow alone 110,000 bottles of countrymade liquor, 250,000 beer cans and 200,000 bottles of whisky were sold.

“The sales during Holi alone outdo sales during many months,” said S.P. Singh, president of the Liquor dealers association.

Sales in army cantonment canteens have also seen a spurt, a source said.

( An IANS report by Mohit Dubey )

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