However, things have changed drastically now. These days liquor made in commercial distilleries are available at the drop of a hat in shops even in remote villages. Moreover, the Bhils are no more dependent only on their subsistence agriculture but get good wages as construction labourers and sharecroppers in Gujarat and so have a considerable amount of money. So the consumption of alcohol has gone up by leaps and bounds. There is a law that prohibits the sale of liquor without a license. But these licences are sold by the Madhya Pradesh Government at a hefty premium and it earns Rs 13000 crores annually from this. It then looks the other way when the licensees sell through small shops more than the licensed amount to make profits after recovering the hefty premiums they have paid. There are bootleggers who convey this liquor to the small shops and these too are Adivasis. They have become very powerful people in their community. Obviously the excise department and police officials also earn a cut in the process.
Liquor, thus, influences grassroots politics in many adverse ways. First it keeps the masses sozzled and so they are least interested in any alternative politics for their own development. Second it generates funds which are used to fight elections from the local to the national level. Third the trade in liquor, being lucrative, has coopted many grassroots activists of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS) into it.
Consequently, when we had a night meeting recently in village Vakner when we went there to collect indigenous seeds, many of the people who came to attend it were sozzled and created a lot of trouble. Night meetings used to be the most potent means of political education and strategising in villages in the initial years of the KMCS. But now these meetings or any meetings for that matter have a good spattering of sozzled people in them who tend to disrupt them.
While the older generation is addicted to liquor, the younger generation is addicted to both liquor and mobile phones. They have the money also from doing migrant labour. So they are least bothered about political meetings and are happy to enjoy the pleasures of liquor and consumerist mobile content. The market and the state through liquor and mobile phones have effectively put paid to mass organisational work. The most disturbing phenomenon is that of the grassroots activists being corrupted by this. The KMCS used to have a host of village leaders who worked voluntarily with some support from the community. That is why only a few full time activists could mobilise people across hundreds of villages and a high level of political mobilisation used to take place on a shoestring budget. Not anymore.
Thus, the level of mobilisation has gone down and many of the grassroots activists have either become inactive or are into selling liquor. Some have used the power gained from selling liquor to become workers of the mainstream political parties. The night meeting that we had was disrupted by one of these also. Not only was he drunk but he also aggressively said that Adivasis were Hindus and so should work to ensure that the BJP comes back to power in Madhya Pradesh. When asked as to where he got the idea that Adivasis were Hindus he said that he regularly attended the meetings of the BJP where he was told that the Adivasis were the original followers of Ram Bhagwan!!
When we started the mobilisation work three and a half decades ago neither did we, the urban activists who provided the intellectual capital required to fight the state and the market, require much money nor did the grassroots Adivasi activists. However, now not only is much more money required by both but also the number of people prepared to fight on a shoestring is much less. The Republic today is one of liquor and mobile content both actively promoted by the State and Market and it is very difficult nay well nigh impossible to forge a mass movement for decentralised equitable and sustainable development.