In a telling blow to the Pinarayi Vijayan government, the Kerala church on Saturday slammed the state's liquor policy, threatening to work against the ruling Left's candidate in the upcoming Chengannur by-poll.
A senior bishop of the powerful Syro Malabar Catholic Church said this after the state government on Friday notified a Supreme Court order allowing licenses to every local body to open new liquor vends in the areas where population is above 10,000.
The Syro church is a key member of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference that has a very strong anti-liquor front.
Speaking to the media, Bishop Mar Remigiose Inchananiyil, of the Thamarassery Diocese in Kozhikode, said they were challenging the Vijayan government to set the ball rolling for a referendum on the new liquor policy.
"They had come with a detailed manifesto on what their liquor policy would be and they used film stars to propagate that their liquor policy would be one of abstinence.
"Just see now what has happened. All the bars that were closed are going to be reopened. Whom are they (the Left) cheating? We will be in the forefront at the Chengannur by-election asking the electorate to vote against the manipulative tactics of the Left government," said an angry Inchananiyil.
In 2016, when the Oommen Chandy-led Congress government demitted office, there were two dozen bars that operated in five star hotels. Around 700 bars in the three-star and four-star hotels were shut down.
Chandy's policy envisaged prohibition in Kerala by 2023.
After Vijayan took over, the government reduced distances between liquor vends and religious and educational institutions from 200 metres to 50 metres.
"The sad part of this new liquor policy is the rich do not get affected, instead it's the poor who do not know the ill-effects of liquor, who become victims of the free availability of liquor. This liquor policy is going to be even more dangerous, a (bigger) disaster than the Ockhi cyclone. We will strongly fight against this at Chengannur," said Inchananiyil.
However, senior CPI-M leader and central committee member Anathalavatom Anandan said that their government had done nothing but just abided by the apex court's directives, which every state government was bound to abide by.
"They (Church) could have approached the Supreme Court when the case was heard. And it's surprising that on one side they (Church) oppose the liquor policy and on the other they ask for license to produce more wine (for use by the church during the Sunday Mass). We are very clear that our policy is one of abstinence," said Anandan.