One is an ascetic; the other a vegetarian, god-fearing IIT graduate. Both will firmly refuse a glass of chardonnay or a mug of lager.
But the chief ministers of India’s two most hotly discussed states, Yogi Adityanath and Arvind Kejriwal are fronting some of the boldest liquor policy reforms. Some of these steps may change the way liquor is consumed in their states, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, respectively. And over time, maybe the rest of India.
From April, the Yogi Adityanath government made a policy shift to favour softer drinks like beer and wine over the harder ones like whisky, rum, vodka, and gin. The 2021-22 Uttar Pradesh excise policy made beer and wine cheaper while hard booze for a bit steeper. The government slashed the duty on beer from 280 percent to 200 percent. It did not raise excise on beer vends while increasing the fee by 7.5 percent for other liquor vends.
Prices of wine, local beverages and foreign liquor in Uttar Pradesh came down after the state cut the COVID-19 cess by half.
Uttar Pradesh wishes to be an investment destination for big corporations fleeing China since the pandemic broke out. It is also working on a film city and new airport hubs. Ambition makes good administrators pragmatic. One may not associate the proliferation of trendy liquor shops across Noida and Greater Noida with a saffron-wearing sadhu, but his new excise policy clearly is a welcome rug for national and international business travellers and a new-age, urban workforce.
Kejriwal’s steps in this direction are bolder. Delhi’s proposed new liquor policy does a kamikaze on the antiquated licensing and controlling system.
It clears the way for home delivery of liquor. Licences will be given through online bidding. The old, cage-like thekas will be replaced by walk-in liquor stores. Microbreweries will come. And bars will be open till 3 am unless of course, you have a licence to run your place round the clock!
Other reforms include getting the state out of the retail alcohol business, overhauling a dodgy tax system, and reducing the number of dry days in a year from 21 to three.
Delhi is the world’s 28th most visited city. It is the capital of a nation that claims to have a demographic and democratic advantage. It was time someone bit the morality bullet and made it less stuffy.
Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand, aims to give China a run for its money. It has so far been trapped by the perception of being regressive and dirty. By conducting a Kumbh Mela for 3.5 million pilgrims with state-of-the-art facilities and cleanliness in 2018, Yogi has shown that he can be a top-class international host.
Both Yogi and Kejriwal have lowered the drinking age to a more practical 21 years.
A sane liquor policy in sync with the changing times is good for both earning revenue and welcoming investment. It gives UP and Delhi an edge over states like Maharashtra, Bengal and Karnataka, for instance, where governments have been greedy to price decent liquor almost out of the middle-class reach and being lazy and squeamish by introducing absurdly early shut-down hours.
But the real toast goes to how the two teetotaller chief ministers put their personal choices aside to bring counterintuitive but long overdue changes in the way citizens can enjoy a drink.