An Act: A revisit to the past amidst lobbying
Rev. Dr. Zelhou Keyho, General Secretary, NBCC
Nagaland has a long history of bringing the NLTP Act to black and white. The movement began in the early 1960s wherein the church and the civil society fought for almost 3 decades and finally NLTP Act came into being in 1989. In the ’70s and ’80s, the Nagaland Baptist Church Council and the Naga Mothers Association spearheaded the movement, supported by civil society organizations. This they did because they saw the evil of liquor in our society and what it has done to the generation then.
In the ’80s, the movement became more pressed, aggressive and urgent that the last resort was to “fast unto Death.” This, they did because they saw the ravaging effect of liquor in the society was going to the point of no return. They were serious because they love the people and want to see their children grow up free from indulging in something which resulted to broken homes, destroying the moral and spiritual lives of the people.
The Act may have curtailed the individual choice, but for the greater good of the society in general, the prohibition was fought. The lower section of people, poor and working class expend their earnings towards liquor. Women suffer domestic violence because of liquor leading to broken homes where children became the victims. Poorer section of people in the society became poorer. Students getting addicted to liquor at younger age, deviating from studies. The moral and spiritual life declining at fast rate. All these and other social evils created by liquor led the church, the Naga Mothers Association and the civil society to fight at the forefront. This was done to salvage the society.
After 3 decades of the NLTPA Act, we seem to be forgetting the reason why the NBCC, the NMA and the civil society took such a persistent approach to try to eradicate liquor in our land. There are counter arguments where some are of the opinion that it has done nothing good to the society. The Act has become an object of derision and the church is often blamed.
Whatever it may be, we believe we must put more effort and resolute power to make the Act applicable and successful. The Act has been kept in the cold storage for too long. Before anything is put on the table for consideration, we must go through the definitions and implement the ideals set forth in the Act. Otherwise, it will remain just a “paper tiger” and will not yield any desired result. This is exactly what we find ourselves in today, talking about the failure of the Act and forgetting the implementation part.
We must visit the past to remind ourselves when the Government is toeing/lobbying with the idea of total or partial lifting of the prohibition. Forget about the loopholes/failure, the Act is a hard earned Act not only for the church but more importantly our people and the generations to come. For our sake and theirs, have we really implemented the ideals of the Act?
Let us not forget the first Liquor Prohibition Movement in record which goes back to February 5, 1962 in Mokokchung, where an appeal was made and I quote: “Appeal was made to the Governor to abolish immediately the sale and use of liquor in Nagaland and divert the fund provided for political run to some welfare project as since independence of India the use of liquor has been on the increase in Nagaland.” Another Action by the church council at Kohima taken on November 21-22, 1964 reads: “….demanded the Government of Nagaland to take early measures to stop the sale of all distilled liquor … throughout Nagaland.”
These records show that after almost 3 decades of persistent appeal by the church and the public, the Act came into being. However, the authority failed to successfully and intentionally implement the Act and now we are arguing about its failure. For this long, the Government has taken the path of wait-and-see approach. And now without even proper consultation, free and frank discussion, selective lobbying ignoring the stakeholders is nothing less than an insult. We need no apology but may we be reminded that because of this kind of mentality of doing things our problems are piling up one after the other.
Let me quote one of the resolutions found in the record by the Nagaland Baptist church Council in its general session held at Kohima on October 12, 1966.
“The Naga public is greatly alarmed by the meteoric rise of licensed wine shops and Bars in the streets and cross-roads of all major towns of Nagaland. This is especially evident for the last few years after the assumption of the reins of Government by our own Naga leaders. Erroneously, for many Naga politicians and officers, liquor is association with status – symbol, and with some profiteering motive through its sale seems to weigh much heavier than their concern for the good and well-being of the country men in the villages. As a result, the Naga people are now pondering the serious question as to whether or not, they have voted for the right persons to represent them in the State Assembly.”
This is a sad commentary that after our own people took the rein to govern our own affairs the situation got worse. We are still struggling with this after more than half a century. Profit and revenue motives still are the order of the day. We are less concerned about the good and well-being of the ordinary people and the generations. If the Act is not reinforced, sensible people will continue to wonder if the right people are in the right position.
Five point resolutions in 1966 speak the mind of the church leaders on the issue then and now. Here I quote:
- Resolved that all liquor shops and Bars in Nagaland should be closed down by the end of 1966, by cancelling all licenses now possessed by the dealers.
- Resolved that the Government of Nagaland should give assurance to the Naga people that no Bill for legalized manufacture and sale of any kind of liquor will be passed by the State legislative Assembly.
- Resolved that the Rum quota annually received by the Nagaland State Government from the Centre under the item “Guest entertainment” should be immediately discontinued.
- Resolved that all the Fourteen Naga Baptist Associations should, in their Annual Sessions, seriously discuss the above Resolutions and take positive actions by creating “ALL-OUT MOVEMENT” until the objective is fulfilled.
- Resolved that all the Christian Women Societies throughout Nagaland be urged to organize themselves into “Dry Forces” to combat the manufacture and sale of liquor so detrimental to the peace and security of every NAGA-HOME.
Such has been the stand of our past leaders. They have not seen all but they have felt the pain in their heart and wanted to give us a better future. Where we find ourselves today is none of their fault but ours. The church will not lobby but prayerfully work out the action plan because we still believe and are convinced that liquor in any form will do greater harm to our society.
A letter addressed to the Chief Minister through Excise Minister on April 17, 1974 speaks volume of how distressful the church become on hearing the authority trying to please people for their loyalty to the party.
“We are greatly alarmed to learn that you and your Government are planning to renew the Wine-Shop Licenses granted by the government as a special favour to those people for the loyalty to the party. If this true, this plan of yours will cause great resentment and alarm among the churches and their leaders throughout Nagaland, and there is bound to be serious repercussions all over the land. If this should happen, this will lead our people, who have been so earnestly praying for you and your Government, to lose their confidence in your leadership.”
A copy of the letter to the CM by the party President is partially quoted below:
“As member of the Prohibition Movement, I would like to forewarn our Government of the impending danger that would spell a great embarrassment…. Unlike other states, Nagaland can take a lead in this by taking some timely measures.”
Today, we need such leaders who can speak boldly and say, we need to take “timely measures” instead of talking about partial lift or regulated lift because we know it would not work. Leaders, who will put their self interest behind and embrace the desire of the people. Leaders, who will think beyond “the now” for the future of the people. Above all, leaders, who will fear God and dispense their responsibility to honour God.
A covenant has been reached 3 decades ago and we cannot break that covenant. The move if ever is true, will be a disastrous move. There will be less revenue and more corruption and less accountability. It will not solve the one-sided argument which the Government has been presenting over and over again. It will create an unsafe and dangerous situation in the society. The one option left is to aggressively develop the mechanism to implement the Act with courage.
When the executive power is given to Government agency/agencies and yet they still feel disabled to act upon it, where is the logic that they will do better with the partial lifting of the Act? As long as the Act is kept in cold storage we will continue to come up with unrealistic proposal and approach to deal with the issue. As is the case today, we are lacking the will power and we resort to all kinds of lobbying tactics to divide the society.
Let us for once try and rationally present the loopholes in areas the Act has failed. Let us not only talk on spurious-spirited-illegal flow of liquor. But let us open the Pandora Box and see who the culprits are and how it is coming in. It is very easy to blame our neighbor State but that may be just an excuse.
We cannot be selfish to fatten our pockets. We cannot submit to the pressure of the few who are waiting to harvest at the expense of the suffering and common people. We need to remind ourselves again and again that we have condemned liquor business as evil in the society.
When we talk of partial lift, who is going to gain and who is going to lose? When financial gain, business reward and fattening the pockets are the main motives, the whole Act will tumble down. It is, as quoted above “special favour” approach without any consideration for those who will become the victims.
We know the biblical references to the evil effects of alcohol so I will not rebuttal my case with it. But listen to this:
A nation addicted to drinking has its future completely doomed…. A Government which fattens its purse by selling alcoholic drinks to its people makes prostitution of its sacred functions… A nation of drunkards is a morally and spiritually dwarfed section of humanity (M K Gandhi?).
It is not only what the Bible says, (though that is our foundation) and the church that see the evil of liquor. And yet, we want to reverse the clock with the excuse of revenue without realizing the power of destruction for our people. We can go on and on developing our thesis why alcohol is bad and destructive. The bottom line is this, we are very indiscipline and selfish people and once let loose of the Act we will end up in the pit. There is still a shadow of fear with the Act and this tells us that we still have hope once its implemented with the will power. We are arguing on a shaky ground and therefore, the blame game, unrest situation and regrets will become the order of the day.
The NLTP preface says, “Totally Prohibition prohibits possession, sale, consumption and manufacture of liquor in and of import and export thereof in the State of Nagaland” (Preface p.1).
The preamble further reads: “Whereas it is expedient to totally prohibit the possession, sale, consumption and manufacture of liquor and of import and export thereof in the State of Nagaland. It is thereby enacted in the fortieth year of the Republic of India,..” (p. 1).
The preface and the preamble give no interpretation to the “clauses” and the “paras” imbedded in the Act. It has not been fair because unless the interpretation is given the church will always be blamed. In any interpretation, however, the background on how the Act came into being must be the starting point of interpretation.
Whenever there is any discussion about NLTP Act the church is always put on the other side as the enemy of the affluent and the civilized society. But who among our leaders in power can testify the positive aspect of liquor? The future of our society and the generations should not become a private talk. Selfishness and selfish gain motive dominate as if liquor is the only revenue. Illegal and evil will always be illegal and evil have many faces even if we try to whitewash.
Now we find ourselves forgetting the evil of alcohol and how it has devastated our homes and our society. We now have taken the issue to another level of trying to reconcile the condemned element by the people, as if bushing the evil is going to be possible. Alcohol has destroyed our society once, and it continues, and it will continue, unless we take our stand with a determinate political will.
Those who have gone through the Act will find out that the Act is never properly studied for implementation. The mechanism inscribed and the content of the Act are not even interpreted. In such a situation, it is bound to fail. We have proven that to ourselves. It is a futile exercise as long as the Act remains as a document. Unless proper definitions and interpretations are given, the two words “total” and “prohibition” will be enlarged out of context as is the case today.
Therefore, on matters relating to implementation, the Government must provide the interpretation of the Act and put forward for deliberation. The success and the failure must be systematically presented for discussion so that support system can evolve. The following suggestions are pertinent:
The challenges faced by the implementing agent. Only then, the church, Naga Mother Association, women force, youth force and civil society can step in to help. Together we can own the Act.
The mechanism/approach adopted for operation by the implementing authority must be transparent. It should point out the loopholes because the “construct” lies with the Government.
It should also give a detail description of the entry points and how they sneak inside our State.
The Modus operandi, the nexus and the manufacturing spots/locations within the State must be identified and make known because they are illegal.
Any other relevant/pertinent point for discussion be put forward so that the public can aid in the effort of the authority for support and sustenance.
The NLTP Act 1989 is a legislation; it empowers the Government to act upon. Therefore, the agency/agencies should come out with detail and compressive strategy. Time to time frisking and confiscating the illegal transportation of liquor is appreciated and we applaud the Government, particularly, the Excise Department but that is only one aspect of the empowerment.
Whatever is done must be objective, rational and not be antagonistic.
It must honor God and put the welfare of the commoners in perspective.
Who are the people who will gain and the section of people who will loss must be specified.
Our children and the generations to come must be projected. We must seek the wisdom to see the unseen.
If with the Act we are failing, we know very well what will happen if a pinhole passage is opened. It will only make matter worse.
If with the Act there are loopholes, common sense will tell us what is waiting once we let go of the Act.
We know what our children will inherit and the cycle will continue.
At the end who will be blamed?
Where does the church stand? Did we think that the Act will solve the problem over night? No, not at all! The church cannot clothe herself with an element which she knows is evil for the society. We will still stand on the ground on which our leaders stood half a century over ago which led to the movement. Liquor has destroyed us then and we still find ourselves in the same predicament. Unless we act with determination, it will continue to destroy us. The solution to our problem is not on partial lift or regulated relaxation. The half hearted approach to the Act has taken us to where we are today. Besides, the methodology on which we have come to this conclusion is faulty and bias. Therefore, we stand firm on the Act and will advocate for full implementation.
In a Christian majority society, it is a matter of shame to all of us. Today, we should be deliberating on how to strengthen the Act but unfortunately, we are beginning to test the waters on how to partially lift the Act through selective consultations and backdoor lobbying. We have often cited examples of other States and countries when we are faced with any pressing issues. Sometimes we talk about their success but now we are talking about their failure. We have come to an easy conclusion to say “they have failed and therefore, we can never succeed.” This is a wrong approach. Why can’t we look at our situation as a different entity? If we cannot copy their success, are we saying their failure suits us? We can be different and we have the possibility, if we have the will power.
If our leaders will have the “will power” half the work is done. If therefore, they believe they are placed in leadership position among many who aspire to be, they must take the courage to govern and dispense their responsibility for the welfare of the people. With no malice, if you fail to act and do what is “right” and “just” for your people, deliverance will come from another direction.
The Nagaland Baptist Church Council, comprising of 20 Associations and 4 Associate members with 1708 churches urge the Government to implement the NLTP Act. We further urge the Government to stop backdoor lobbying, leaving the major stakeholders in the dark.