Prohibition…calling Spade A Spade


In the midst of a stormy RIIN downpour any other subject would have sounded out of place. However, in the midst of a resounding support for the implementation RIIN by all Tribal Hohos, NGOs and Civil Societies present, to carry on this exercise forward based on a sound defined operational norms, it was like a breath of fresh air to hear Chief Minister of Nagaland openly admit during the RIIN consultation meeting on the 17-07-2019 at the Banquet Hall that the “Prohibition” in Nagaland was a failure. He said: “In the midst of prohibition, liquor is still flowing freely…I drink…other people are drinking too but many are afflicted by drinking spurious adulterated liquor because they cannot afford genuine liquor. We are living a life of hypocrisy.” At last…this is an open statement of the mother of all truths coming from upstairs! Perhaps we need deal with the spill-over induced hypocrisy which has practically crippled and ruined the fundamental fabrics of true Christian values in every other subsidiary walk of life. No one in his/her right senses is denying that excessive consumption of alcohol is injurious to one’s health and mental well being…but despite it all, God did give mankind (Adam and Eve) the individual freedom of choice to do the right thing or even the wrong, (to eat the apple or not to eat the apple). This God given freedom of choice is being questioned and is being overruled by the mankind through the Church fraternity many of whom also sell their votes during the election without doubt! Convincing theological or secular arguments can strongly be mounted both ‘for’ and ‘against’ Prohibition. However, a dispassionate look at our REALITY must dictate the basis of our final verdict….
So let me also share an honest truth and reveal the inner untold story that every senior bureaucrat knows but have rarely been spoken out loud: As a senior bureaucrat myself before retirement, I have had the privilege of attending many of the State level official parties hosted for one reason or the other by the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Nagaland. In every party so hosted, the best of the prohibited substances like whiskey (Johnny Walker Black, Blue, Green, Red, Gold Labels) / Brandy (Napoleon Bardinet etc. etc.)/rum/ beer/vodka, wine… you name it… all flows like a perennial river and we as bureaucrats have all been the happy revellers doing our best to drain this river dry to the detriment of our livers and mental health, to no avail. It was a never exhausting stream, and so, many would beat a homeward bound retreat, walking sideways like crabs to their vehicles at the end of such a ‘fine and lively’ official party. It had happened then…it is happening now…and being admitted by none other than our very own Chief Minister himself. When this is the scenario of reality at the highest echelon of a Government, can anyone in their right senses believe that prohibition in our State will actually work? Can the Church Leaders officially impose upon the Chief Minister to put a stop to this farce to begin with and lead by example…even if it means losing their organizational financial droppings from their political masters or individual favours like being appointed as Member/ Chairman of NPSC or some such non-secular positions? ‘Responsible’ Church leaders, ‘active’ members of Mothers’ Association and other NGOs who have their children in bureaucracy, emulate their very own Hon’ble Chief Minister in their private parties, right in front of the eyes of their parents. They have nothing to say to their children… and yet vociferously lead a rally for prohibition as ‘dry crusaders’ out in the open streets to demonstrate their ‘make believe’ uprightness before their community? Any acceptable Dictionary would describe such behavioural display as hypocrisy…and no one is really free of this disease. Let me put reality as bluntly as blunt can be: when the enforcers of Prohibition are themselves the users, no law on earth can be enforced! It is about time that the Nagas wake up and face this reality squarely. Prosecuting a poor Excise constable at the entry check gates for letting a few bottles of liquor get past him and closing our eyes to the monumental default at the highest echelons of our society, is a glaring case of public hypocrisy at its best…unacceptable even from the Biblical stand point. Honestly think this over in our quiet hour.
We have often heard arguments from the “Wet crusaders” (anti-prohibitionists) who rave about the annual revenue being compromised because of prohibition by a poor State. No doubt…there is a fundamental truth in this too. Thanks to Prohibition in Nagaland, Khatkhati is growing rapidly from a shanty hutment neighbourhood a few years ago to a booming township now. However, revenue loss is the least of our problem. The real potential danger of prohibition lies elsewhere. Let us take a clearheaded, intelligent stroll down history lane and learn lessons from a much more progressive country like the United States of America, which began with Prohibition as a nationwide Constitutional ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages during 1920 to 1933.
The subject of prohibition and its enforcement was a ferociously debated issue even in the USA during the nineteenth and early twentieth century spearheaded by the Protestant Churches and Social Progressives (like our Nagaland Mother’s Association), just as we in Nagaland are confounding ourselves. Though it was popularly believed that Prohibition failed, in reality it did succeed in cutting overall alcohol consumption in half during the 1920s, and consumption remained below pre-Prohibition levels until the 1940s, suggesting that Prohibition did transform a significant proportion of the population towards less alcoholic consumption habits. The all important question is: if prohibition was a success story why did USA finally ratify their Eighteenth Amendment “Volstead Act” that enforced prohibition, and introduce their Twenty-first Amendment on 5th December 1933 to repeal it after a prolonged civil war like battle with the mighty bootlegging mafias who carried out ruthless murders, assassinations against those who stood in their way? It is here that Nagas must exercise their minds pragmatically.
The 1920s Prohibition era ushered in unintended consequences…the growth of criminal organizations, including the modern American Mafia. Italian-American gangs (along with other ethnic gangs) entered the booming bootlegging liquor business and transformed themselves into sophisticated criminal enterprises, skilled at smuggling, money laundering and bribing police and other public officials. Prohibition accelerated the crime rate significantly as black market turf wars were waged openly between the competing mafia gangs, just like our Factions fighting and killing one another to protect their tax collecting turfs at one time. It has already happened in Nagaland, except that in Nagaland they did so under the guise of fighting for independence. It would be of interest to know that the Mafia, a network of organized-crime groups based in Italy and America, evolved over centuries in Sicily, an island ruled until the mid-19th century by a long line of foreign invaders. Sicilians banded together in groups to protect themselves and carry out their own brand of justice. In Sicily, the term “mafioso,” or Mafia member, initially had no criminal connotations and was used to refer to a person who was resentful of central foreign authority…in the same analogy of our very own NNPGs against mainland India. By the 19th century, some of these groups emerged as private armies, or “mafie,” who extorted protection money from land lords and business houses and eventually became the violent criminal organization known today as the Mafia, spreading fear, mayhem and chaos. The Sicilian Mafias had flourished since the mid-19th century, but was under attack from the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini (1883-1945). Many Sicilian Mafiosi escaped to the United States where they got involved in bootlegging and became a part of the burgeoning American Mafia. The American Mafia, which also rose to power during the period of Prohibition in the 1920s, is a separate entity from the Mafia in Italy, although they share such traditions as ‘omerta’, an all-important code of conduct, secrecy and silence that forbid any cooperation with government authorities. Together, the Mafia spread their tentacles into every spheres of life, corrupting the Government machinery to the core. At present Nagas too are being stifled and are also complaining about corruptive system that has seeped into every sphere of our lives. While trying to control the abuse of alcohol, the USA was now unwittingly faced with a greater threat of a corruptive system spawned by prohibition that had gone completely out of control. The Federal Government of USA then began their all out war against the Mafias through various legislation, which did precious little to mitigate the problem. In the end, they identified the root cause which lay in Prohibition. Thus came about Twenty-first Amendment on 5th December 1933 repealing Prohibition. Cutting the long story short, that is the history of Prohibition in the USA. Now take a careful look at our present circumstances.
Every matured living being knows that because of Prohibition, bootlegging is a thriving business in Nagaland, just as it did in the USA. The NNPGs are not only behaving like the Mafias with a very flimsy cover of fighting for ‘sovereignty’ as a camouflage while mercilessly extorting money from the public. To make matters worse, they are also using the Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrants (IBI) as their tool for all kinds of questionable activities in Nagaland. Assassination gangs on hire have begun to surface. The NGOs are generally voicing their concerns helplessly. A day will come when Nagaland will find these IBIs, or for that matter even our disgruntled NNPGs, independently maturing on their own into the kind of Mafia that America is still battling with. It is already taking the shape of organized syndicates with criminal inclinations. While it has perhaps not necessarily mushroomed to a significant magnitude of the Mafia system of the USA, we are certainly not very far behind. Consider some of the occurrences in our daily lives. Dead body found here. Raped women found dead there. When criminals/rapists/murderers are brought into custody, they are released promptly by the courts, no matter how much it is resented by the people. Why? Our Courts are already under threat from the ‘mighty powers in the shadows’ and cannot dispense justice as is their obligated duty. These are strains that have already crept into the system and the Government and the public is ill equipped to stop this rot from setting in. It will grow stronger as the time goes by. The United States of America learned a lesson the hard way. Do the Nagas too need to learn this same lesson by going through the same process they did instead of learning it from their experience? We the ‘great’ Nagas need to acknowledge the saying that “the wise learn from other’s mistakes; the fools by their own”? We all have our respective burdens of sins to bear…but we can rid ourselves with this blatant hypocrisy at least and avoid the foreboding times ahead!
Khekiye K. Sema IAS (Rtd)
Forest Colony, Kohima.

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