Lucknow, July 15: To woo investors, Samajwadi chief minister Akhilesh Yadav seems to be banking on the spirit of socialism. Or, to be more precise, the favourite spirit of what used to be socialists’ favourite country.
The government of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s leading potato producer, will offer incentives to anyone ready to set up potato-based vodka plants, agriculture production commissioner Aloke Ranjan said.
He was confident that if the drive took off, the vodka units would “absorb a large chunk of the excess potato that goes waste” and help relieve farmers’ distress.
Some 35-40 lakh tonnes of potato goes waste every year in the state, horticulture and food processing secretary Rajan Shukla said.
Approximately five tonnes of potato would be needed to produce one litre of vodka, according to a feasibility study conducted in 2005 by the then chief minister, Akhilesh’s father Mulayam Singh Yadav.
But Mulayam’s invitation to vodka manufacturers failed to attract investment because of poor law and order in Uttar Pradesh.
The idea was revived on July 5 when liquor company Radico Khaitan approached the Akhilesh government with a proposal to set up a potato-based vodka plant, preferably in the Kannauj-Etawa potato belt.
Sources said the company also wants to produce grain-based liquor since it believes that producing potato-based vodka exclusively would not be commercially viable. Radico already produces a vodka brand, Magic Moment, but it is sugar based.
Officials argued that the idea of Uttar Pradesh as a vodka hub wasn’t impractical since potato-based vodkas have been gaining in popularity.
The only high-end potato-based vodka available in India now is Chopin, produced in Poland. One large peg at a Mumbai five-star costs Rs 700, though. Other leading potato based vodka brands such as Blue Ice, Cold River and Luksusowa (a Polish brand) have yet not been launched in India.
Vodka — derived from the Slavic voda (water) and often interpreted to mean “little water” — can be made from grains, fruits, sugar, potatoes and other vegetables. Some say it originated in Poland but in popular imagination, the drink will always be linked to Russia and, by association, communism.
Yet Lenin is said to have been dismayed by Russians’ weakness for vodka and the chronic drunkenness among them. One of the first reforms that Mikhail Gorbachov introduced was his anti-alcoholism campaign of May 1985, raising prices and restricting sales.
Bengal, one of India’s leading potato producers and ruled by communists for 34 years, made no effort to woo vodka manufacturers, either.
However, the perceived vodka-Soviet link endures and sometimes throws up ironies too: for instance, a US-based vodka brand is called KGB. It’s, however, named after KGB Spirits, the company that produces it, and not the dreaded Soviet spy agency.