DIMAPUR, DECEMBER 19: Church, Government and the Undergrounds are directly or indirectly complicit in the flourishing of illegal liquor trade and failure of Prohibition in Nagaland. And continuing with the Nagaland Liquor Total Prohibition Act, 1989, is irrational. Along these lines, two days after the churches appealed for another year to turn Nagaland “Dry”, Dr Hesheto Chishi, President of Nagaland NGOs Forum and Director of Indigenous Culture Centre tore into the travesty that is Prohibition in Nagaland.
In a candid tête-à-tête with this Correspondent on Friday last at his humble Dimapur residence, the 2018 Governor’s Award winner noted that liquor smugglers and sellers, the corrupt officials and cops, the conniving politicians, and the Undergrounds (Naga insurgents) all belong to “our society” and “our churches.” “An Act (NLTP) does not make us a good Christian. We have failed on our part and blaming the Act. We have to streamline role of society, the church and the implementing agencies,” Chishi stated categorically. He felt that the Church should address the issue of alcoholism rather than blame everything on the failure of the Government in the implementation of the NLTP Act. He claimed that many Church pastors do not counsel alcoholics, instead shame them in front of the congregation. “The Church must have their ministry in reality. To give counseling to alcoholics or drug addicts, we must understand their language. Otherwise, we cannot educate people or bring any changes,” he said.
Brushing aside claims by the Church to ensure Prohibition in Nagaland, Chishi pointed out besides a flawed approach to the issue of alcoholism, there is also too much conflict of interest, and money at stake for that to be a reality anytime soon. “The church in general term will say we must impose this (NLTP) Act, but when it comes to acting against individuals (syndicate members or bootleggers) they are always quite. The Syndicate people and bootleggers have become economical assets, be it for tribal bodies, churches, etc.; they donate the most.” Without mentioning names, he revealed that people involved in illegal liquor trade are included in boards of churches; some are inducted in deacon’s board, and church mission boards. But, he noted with irony, on the other hand “any other person, who is a drunk or has committed a crime, will be excommunicated from the church.”
Dwelling on the general suspicion that the thriving multi-crore illegal liquor business might be behind the opposition to lifting of Prohibition, Chishi said while they may not be directly involved, there is no doubt that indirectly they do wield influence. “It is a cycle,” he appraised. Substantiating his assertion, Chishi said that those dealing in illegal alcohol in contravention of the NLTP Act – people who are part of the illegal liquor syndicates – are assets to the churches as they regularly pay tithes and make huge donations to the churches’ causes. “They (syndicate members or bootleggers) are the ones who are involved in the churches, and the churches are under NBCC. They themselves are quiet, they may not say anything, but if they simply donate something… they have their own language. That system will certainly be there (sic).”
Acknowledging that the illegal liquor business could not have thrived without money lining different pockets including that of people in the Government, Chishi asserted that “politicians are compromised.” Moreover he added that even though they face trouble in governance because of the NLTP Act, no politician would openly advocate lifting of Prohibition as they would lose “reputation” and their standing in society as a Christian. “For personal benefits, politicians are quiet.”
He also noted the lack of political will in enforcing Prohibition. The Nagaland Government has enacted the Act because of pressure of NBCC and Mothers Association; otherwise no Government can have this kind of governance system, Chishi said. “The approach was made by the church and the mothers, but implementation has to be done by the Government. The Government didn’t genuinely rationalize before legislating the NLTP Act 1989.”
“Rationally speaking (NLTP) Act cannot be continued. It is irrational. Until and unless we have a concrete mechanism to monitor with all stakeholders on board, why should we create a law and create confusion and havoc,” Chishi assessed.
Asked about the role of the Undergrounds (Naga insurgent groups) in the saga of Prohibition, Hesheto Chishi they are the main problem. “They say they are the parallel government. One year they even stopped the election, why can’t they stop the implementation of the NLTP Act.” Chishi opined that the UGs are getting their “highest revenue” from the business of illegal liquor, and that they wouldn’t like to give up on that revenue.
“They are the main propagators of Nagaland for Christ; that should be converted in letter and spirit,” Chishi asserted, adding that either the State Government or the ‘parallel governments’ should enforce the Act, or they should lift it.
Chishi contended that “if at all they (UGs) feel the need for Prohibition Act, then in letter and spirit they should have supported the Act from 1989. But why did they neglect? If they are genuinely concerned for the Naga society, they should have done their part when the Government failed. And if they feel that NLTP Act cannot be implemented, they should have moved to stop it.”
“By name we call them Undergrounds, but they are part of us, they are also our Church members, and so also responsible for the failure of the Act,” Dr. Chishi stated.
Vice-President of Naga Women Hoho Dimapur, Vimenuo Liegise, speaking to this Correspondent on the NLTP issue voiced similar sentiments, although she stopped short of blaming the Church. “It’s all a merry-go around of the Syndicate, the Undergrounds and the politicians,” she quipped. It is a fact that “crores and crores of money is going to a few pockets” due to the Syndicate business, Liegise said, but questioned if that would change once NLTP is lifted. “After NLTP is lifted will the Syndicate system end? Who will be given licenses to open liquor stores? Another syndicate system will come up. Only four people have liquor bonds in Nagaland. Do you think these people will ensure only good liquor is sold to the public. If not, then NLTP Act should continue,” she asserted.
Liegise came out strongly against the State Government saying that the “Government is another big syndicate.” “Who is giving them (the Syndicates) protection, how can these people function so openly,” she questioned. Asked about the involvement of the UGS, Liegise said it wouldn’t matter to them whether Prohibition is lifted or not. “If the NLTP Act is lifted, then they will go to the liquor stores to collect money.”
Phase-wise lifting of Prohibition
It is next to impossible to totally enforce Prohibition in Nagaland, Dr. Chishi noted, but warned that abrupt lifting of the NLTP Act might also have a huge negative impact on the society. “We have been under this Act for 31 years. So, even if we lift the NLTP Act, it should be done in a moderate manner.” Chishi advocated that if Nagaland decides to do away with Prohibition, it should be done phase-wise, with limitations on sale and intake of alcohol, till people develop a certain level of maturity regarding drinking habits and choices.
“Lifting the Act should not be seen as encouraging people to drink,” Chishi cautioned.+
On December 15, former Commissioner of Excise Maongwati Aier emphatically endorsed the stringent Prohibition laws of Bihar as a panacea to turn Nagaland ‘Dry’. The very next day the National Family Health Survey 2019-2020 revealed that Bihar, where liquor sale and consumption has been banned from 2016, has a higher proportion of people consuming alcohol than Wet States like Maharashtra and Goa. The former Excise Commissioner went to the extent of saying that if the Government of Nagaland can impose and implement the stringent Prohibition laws of Bihar Government, there will be no more drinkers or bootleggers. The recent headlines in major publications all stated to the contrary. ‘Dry state Bihar splurging on local, fake liquor in election season as netas buy in bulk’, an India Today investigation report headline read. A Business Standard news headline read – ‘A parallel economy: Bootleggers flourish in Bihar’s liquor crackdown’. Another headline read – ‘Prohibition in Bihar has pushed its poor towards cheap drugs and hooch’.