As Vala eluded the media, the AAP distanced itself from the former’s remarks, calling them a “personal view”, even as the BJP, which had drawn ire from the AAP over the Botad and Ahmedabad tragedy in July this year despite the state. prohibition law, seized on the rank to draw up his guns on the AAP.
In the video, Vala is seen claiming that nowhere in the 196 countries of the world is there a total ban on alcohol. “Alcohol can be consumed in any of these 196 countries, worldwide. In India, the population is 130 to 140 crores and alcohol can be consumed throughout the country, but in Gujarat, which has a population of 6.5 crores, a prohibition law is in effect. This proves that alcohol in itself is not bad, it is not. (The problem is) the alcohol consumes us when in reality the alcohol is for our consumption. If we consume alcohol, alcohol is not bad. But the problem is that alcohol consumes us,” Vala says in the clip, adding that “if you have ability, you consume alcohol. The great doctors, the officers of the IAS, of the IPS consume alcohol.
In its reaction, the BJP accused Vala’s statement of betraying the true character of the AAP, questioning why the Delhi AAP government would have allowed the sale of alcohol near schools.
Indranil Rajyaguru, Rajkot’s AAP co-national secretary, qualified Vala’s statement from his personal perspective, insisting that the party’s official stance is “the strictest enforcement of the law of ban in Gujarat, as promised by Arvind Kejriwal”.
While phone calls and messages from the Indian Express to Vala elicited no response, it is the first time that the politician from Gir Somnath district has been so much in the spotlight in his public life. for more than three decades. Hailing from Paldi village in Veraval taluka of Gir Somnath district, Vala had started his political career by joining the Janta Dal in the early 1990s. But as the Janta Dal later merged with the Congress, Vala joined the BJP and became the chairman of the Veraval taluka unit of the party.
“Vala used to observe party discipline when he was in the BJP. Then his personal ambitions took over. He wanted to contest the 2012 Assembly election from Somnath. But the BJP preferred to repeat incumbent MP Rajshi Jotva instead. Therefore, Vala left the BJP and contested the poll that year as an independent,” says a senior BJP official from Saurashtra.
The 2012 Somnath poll was won by Jasa Barad of Congress, who defected to the BJP in 2014 and won the ensuing partial poll. In the 2017 polls, however, Congress’ Vimal Chudasama beat Barad. “Vala had been close to the late Jasubhai Barad during the Janta Dal years. Jasubhai then joined the Congress. In a sense, Vala followed him again when he worked for Chudasama in the 2017 elections,” the BJP leader adds.
Vala, 57, joined the AAP in May this year. On August 3, he appeared on the first list of 10 AAP candidates for the Assembly elections scheduled for the end of the year. “He is the State Vice President of AAP Gujarat. He fought Vidhan Sabha’s election in 2012 as an independent candidate and won 23,000 votes,” the party said after introducing Vala.
Vala, who had dropped out of school after graduating from Class IX, runs a transportation business. In his affidavit filed for the 2012 Assembly election, he said his assets were worth more than Rs 20 crore and his income was Rs 1.54 crore and his wife’s was Rs 80,904 for 2011- 12.
Five criminal cases were registered against him in Gir Somnath between 2000 and 2006 when he was a BJP official. The cases included an attempted assassination of a poll worker during the Veraval taluka panchayat election in 2006, three cases of illegal mining and a case of threatening a doctor at a government hospital and participation to riots.
Delhi Chief Minister and AAP supremo Kejriwal had strongly criticized the Gujarat government over the Botad Hooch tragedy, accusing the BJP of going hand in hand with the alcohol mafia in a illegal trade worth Rs 10,000 crore. The main opposition Congress also lambasted the BJP even as the latter attributed the loss of 40 lives to the consumption of a “chemical” stolen from a factory in Ahmedabad.
Kejriwal has pledged in his campaign that if the AAP comes to power in Gujarat, he will end the illicit liquor trade in the state and send those involved in it to jail.
Meanwhile, Gujarat AAP President Gopal Italia has again sought to assert the party’s claim to the ban narrative. Addressing a press conference in Botad, Italia accused the BJP of allegedly ensuring that the anti-alcohol law simply remained on paper, citing a number of reports of alleged involvement of BJP leaders in the possession or consumption of alcohol or in the illicit trade in alcohol. He also accused the company of where the alleged chemical used for brewing country liquor has still not been prosecuted and that a Botad BJP executive allegedly involved in the incident has also not no longer been arrested to date. He alleged that it showed the BJP’s involvement in bogus liquor trade.
The Congress also targeted the BJP’s waiver on the deaths of Botad Hooch, party leader Rahul Gandhi questioning him on the “bogus alcohol trade” and the protection given to these “mafias”.
Gujarat Congress leaders, like Sukhram Rathva in the past, have alleged that the BJP is “profiting from the smuggling of drugs and alcohol” into the state to fund its election campaigns.
In June this year, as the BJP reinstated a former party minister Khumansinh Vansiya into its fold, it caused a stir by calling for the lifting of the liquor ban in Gujarat. He said if the BJP promised to end the alcohol ban, it could win all 182 Assembly seats in state polls. Vansiya later said his comment was personal and not that of the party.
The BJP, which has always publicly defended the no-alcohol policy, has however been caught off guard on several occasions, especially when workers or party leaders have been caught consuming alcohol. A recent example came from Surat, from where videos of two BJP leaders drinking alcohol surfaced. In Chhota Udepur, a BJP leader resigned after a video emerged of him dancing while drunk.
Veteran chef and ex-CM Shankersinh Vaghela has consistently opposed the ban policy, however. He argued that the policy ‘exists only on paper in Gujarat’, saying the wealthy are able to get health cards to enjoy alcohol legally while the poor are forced to buy drugs illicit. In his election campaigns, he pledged to scrap the policy, saying it could generate an annual revenue of Rs 30,000-40,000 crore for the state.
Ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections, the then Chairman of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) Bharatsinh Solanki had urged the Election Commission to ‘seal off’ border areas and deploy observers at the borders of neighboring BJP-ruled states to check for possible influx of alcohol at the alleged request of the ruling party.
Additionally, in 2017, the then nascent political group Smart Party had also announced their support for lifting the ban policy on the grounds that it negatively affected Gujarat’s potential in tourism and other sectors.
The constitutional validity of Gujarat’s prohibition law remains under dispute in the Gujarat High Court since 2018, even though no hearing has been held in the case for almost a year.
The first hint of alcohol prohibition was given by the Bombay Abkari Act, 1878. This Act dealt with levying duty on intoxicants among other things and aspects of prohibition via amendments made in 1939 and 1947. Following the reorganization of the province of Bombay into the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat in 1960, there were continuous modifications and liberalization in Maharashtra, even as Gujarat adopted the policy of prohibition since 1960 and then chose to apply it with greater rigidity. In 2011, he renamed the law as Gujarat Prohibition Law.