Lucknow: The general elections are not far and so households in at least 50 villages around the Uttar Pradesh capital are busy making the one thing that is in high demand by political parties and seldom fails to make voters happy - moonshine!
Liquor manufacturing units in villages bordering Lucknow, especially in Sitapur district, have geared up for brisk business. For, what is usually a trickle around the year turns into a flood at the time of elections, right under the nose of the police.
"In the last assembly elections, our earnings shot up by over 60 per cent. It's the same in every election, be it civic polls or for the Lok Sabha," said a liquor maker.
Of course this is in violation of the election code of conduct, but not many parties seem bothered, with the polls set to take place in April-May.
A Congress activist and former village head said, "When the date is announced, we start serving liquor at rural gatherings at night. Two-three days before the polls, we approach the homes of rural voters and give them country liquor. It tends to sway 15 to 20 per cent of votes."
A corporator who belongs to another party said, "In urban areas we invite voters to small gatherings and even serve foreign liquor."
Dundpur village in Sitapur district, about 35 km from Lucknow, has over 50 illicit distilleries. Literally every family is involved in producing local brew. Police sources say at least 50 villages around Lucknow are involved in the trade at the moment.
Similar distilleries are also located on the rural outskirts of Lucknow like Malihabad, Gosainganj, Chinhat and Bakshi Ka Talab.
The transportation of liquor too is done in a unique way, with football and volleyball bladders used to carry it from the manufacturing units to the bulk buyers.
The distilleries are built in fields on the Sitapur-Lucknow border. If there is a police raid from one side, those involved in making the liquor can quickly escape to the other, revealed Bhure, a native of Dundpur.
The sale of jaggery, which is the main raw material for locally brewed liquor, in Sitapur has increased manifold after the declaration of election dates on March 2.
"The villagers are piling huge stocks of jaggery," said Ganga Ram, one of the biggest foodstock suppliers in Chatti market.
At one distillery, a manufacturer described the simple but effective liquor manufacturing process.
"We place huge quantities of jaggery, mixed with water, in an underground tank and it is left to ferment for about 10 days. Then this mixture is placed in huge kilns and the liquid is collected through a pipe," he said.
The extraction is done at night to avoid a police raid, he added.
"Sometimes in order to hurry the process of fermentation, urea is added in the tank. However, this makes the liquor spurious which can be fatal."
When this IANS reporter went to a house in Kathwara village, next to the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow, a villager peeped out of a small hole in the door of his mudhouse and asked, "Are you carrying an empty bottle?"
On being shown two empty soft drink bottles, he instantly opened the door and said, "It'll cost you Rs 20 for a litre. If you want more in future, you need to deposit the money in advance because the elections are near."
In Dundpur village, some liquor makers take pride in the ability to make good wine.
"We also cater to many people across the state who like wine. Supply us with grapes, oranges, pears and some raw spices and we can manufacture the best wine in 10 days. If you cannot afford to come here, we also make home delivery," said a 25-year-old youth standing in front of his cemented house.
He has made enough money from his business to buy a Maruti 800 car and several acres of land.
Police admit that widespread illegal manufacturing of liquor does go on, especially before elections.
"Our men have busted a number of such gangs and besides other crime, this is also on our priority list," said A K Srivastava, the deputy inspector general of police, Lucknow.
But police usually turn a blind eye to what's going on.
A senior police official said: "Liquor is the best way to lure voters. Candidates and party workers use it to attract voters, generally rural."