Bengaluru: “Journey towards an alcohol-free society’’ is the main promise of the Congress-led ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) for Kerala’s voters, who will decide their next administrators on 16 May.

Continuation of the present liquor ban, along with stricter restrictions, tops the UDF’s election manifesto released on Wednesday.

The UDF, which came to power in the state on a wafer-thin majority of two seats in 2011, imposed gradual prohibition from 1 April 2014, at an estimated loss of 1,800 crore to the exchequer, citing the risk to public health from alcohol.

All bars in the state except the ones having five-star status are banned from selling liquor.

The manifesto talks about a stricter prohibition, perhaps in the light of sharp criticism that the government had to face in recent days. Two days ago, the main opposition in Kerala, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), had alleged that a fresh liquor licence allowed to a bar, after it upgraded itself to five-star status, shows the liquor policy doesn’t mean much.

If re-elected, UDF will not issue bar licences even if three- and four-star hotels acquire five-star status, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy told TV reporters while releasing the manifesto in Thiruvananthapuram.

The 63-page manifesto also promises to continue all developmental works initiated by the incumbent government under the slogan ‘Food for all, housing for all and health for all’.

It proposes to set up affordable lunch canteens, similar to the ‘Amma Canteen’ initiative started by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, provide low-interest housing loans and health cover for the poor.

That apart, the manifesto also promises free bicycles to eighth standard girl students and laptops at concessional rates to students in government and aided colleges.

“The manifesto seems more like an election tactic than a vision document. They are trying to divert all attention just to prohibition during the campaigning. It would not only put LDF on the defensive but also divert media discussions away from allegations of corruption and half-baked projects during the government’s term," said Biju BL, an associate professor in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Hyderabad who has been studying Kerala politics for long.

“But apart from scoring points, it has to be seen whether prohibition as a policy will win them votes or not. History has it that banning arrack in Kerala didn’t do much for Congress electorally in an earlier election," he said.

(PTI contributed to the story)

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