Bar Culture of Agartala: The Crossed Eye

Sanjib Deb

The government's move to issue some license for opening outlets for selling foreign liquor has created ruckus across the state and opposition political parties also did not leave the chance to accrued gain from it. What superseded all discussions even the Badal Choudhury issue, is the government notification regarding issuing the license for opening bars where the people will be allowed to sit and drink. It dominated each discussion when some are putting a seal of approval to the government decision while the other section passing critical remarks. 

The issue even was raised in the state assembly when the members passed their considered opinion over it. In a bid to justify government move, two MLAs one of whom is a doctor went up to propagating the healthy side of drinking liquor. The opposition criticized the treasury bench for propagating in favor of drinking liquor when the Chief Minister is saying to make a drug free state. 

The issue was getting subsided gradually but regained its force when the social media network circulated one picture that a city-based hotel has launched its bar and liquors are being distributed. It created a storm among various sections especially the younger ones. It was such an important event that newspapers also reported it and the televisions telecasted the live pictures that for the first time bars are being introduced in the state.

Being born and brought up in this town and persuading journalism for nearly five decades, I found that, all the discussions are going on based on some wrong impressions and felt duty-bound to bring the reality into fore. What drew my attention first is the reported information that a bar has been opened in Agartala for the first time. 

It is totally wrong as there were bars in this town long ago. The information regarding when the bars were first introduced in Agartala was not readily available. But the fact remains that there were two bars even in the 1960s and 1970s. One of them Ritze Bar was located in the left side of the entry point of the Rupchhaya Cinema Hall and the other Joyhind Bar was located just opposite to it in the ground floor of the present Sourastra Hotel and both used to draw a good number of customers every evening. 

The bar culture in Agartala was discontinued after the Left Front Government led by veteran CPI(M) leader Nripen Chakraborty came into power in 1978. Revolutionary in political thinking but conservative in social matters Nripen Chakraborty found bars are against our culture and ordered there closer within a short period of assuming power. The decision pained many but nobody dared to oppose it as the impact of the new ruling dispensation was overwhelming. The Bars were closed but the only foreign liquor outlet Reliance Stores situated near Kaman Choumuhani (Opposite to old Bata) was not affected.

Nripen Chakraborty closed the bars but the influence of liquor continues. Within a year the Revenue Minister of his government Biren Datta approved a file and a notification was issued inviting application for 12 liquor shops in and around Agartala. Some of these were located in residential areas and many opposed it but the government went ahead with its decision. A newspaper report of that time can be recalled when it was reported that Agartala became the proud owner of 13 foreign liquor shops while the biggest town of the region Gauhati had only two. 

Subsequently, the governments were changed and the state witnessed new dispensations with different political ideology but none dared to reverse the Nripen Chakraborty's decision to discontinue the bar culture. The state witnessed another major expansion of its network of foreign liquor shops during the Congress-TUJS coalition government headed by Sudhir Ranjan Majumder and his revenue minister was Birajit Sinha. During this period many foreign liquor shops were opened in different parts of the state but they also did not dare to go for opening bar. 

The taboo on bars continued for long twenty-five years rule of the Left Front governments led by Dasarath Deb and Manik Sarkar. The image concusses Manik Sarkar reportedly felt the need for issuing the license for bars but always were in dilemma about breaking the psychological barrier of its social impact. However, there is the reason to believe that at the fag end of his tenure he had come out of such taboo and has decided to issue the license for opening bars. The basis for such belief is that during his tenure Manik Sarkar allowed to set up more than one three-star hotels knowing full well that bar is a precondition for getting a three-star tag. However, Manik Sarkar did not have to accomplish it as his tenure came to an abrupt end before construction of these hotels was completed. 

Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb is representing the Bharatiya Janata Party, widely known for their conservative ideology but that did not prevent him from coming out of the taboo. Without wasting any time he took step to revive the bar culture of the city adhering to the need of the hour and call of the time. The man instrumental for the anti-ganja drive and vowed promise of making the state free from narcotics had to face lots of criticism and the opposition parties accused him of following a double standard. Despite all this criticism the Chief Minister proceeded with his decision as he knows there is no way to avoid the call of the time. 

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