Toast with wine not juice at state banquets, president told

Thursday, November 11, 2010

NEW DELHI - With US President Barack Obama and Michelle the latest to be toasted with fruit juice at a grand state dinner in Rashtrapati Bhavan, a plea has been made to President Pratibha Patil to consider serving Indian wines, a “healthy beverage” whose medicinal properties have been well documented.

In a letter to Patil following Monday’s state banquet for the Obamas, Subhash Arora, president of the Delhi Wine Club and Indian Wine Academy, said: “As a passionate promoter of wine as a food product and a healthy beverage when taken in moderation, and a well-wisher of the Indian wine industry, with no commercial interest directly or indirectly, I write to you with a plea to consider starting serving Indian wines at the state banquets held at Rashtrapati Bhavan.”

“Serving of Indian wines at the state banquets will go a long way in boosting the international image of India as a progressive country which makes good quality wine. Being an agricultural produce it will create more jobs for the farmers and help in the positive development of the industry,” he said.

Indian protocol rules do not allow serving of alcohol at any event hosted by a minister, but sometimes exceptions are made at events hosted by bureaucrats.

The letter, shot off by Arora Tuesday, goes on to say that Chinese President Hu Jintao served Chinese red and white wines (Great Wall 2002) at a state banquet in Patil’s honour when she visited the country earlier this year.

“It would be a fine reciprocal gesture to serve a variety of Indian wines when the Chinese or any other president visits India,” Arora said, arguing his case.

The letter said a respected English merchandising company had predicted that in the next 50 years China and India would be at the forefront in the world of wines. “Regrettably, China has already overtaken India since then in many respects and the international focus is shifting to China gradually. I believe my request merits attention on this point alone.”

The letter points out that “the Queen of England has an excellent royal cellar of international wines that is opened for state banquets. The White House has a well stocked collection of American wines”.

Arora, a graduate of IIT-Delhi and often described as a “wine warrior” in the industry, said Mahatma Gandhi’s “aversion to alcohol” was one of the reasons for wine not being served at state banquets.

“I agree and respect his views on alcohol and the potential ill effects. But wine is not really an alcoholic product. Wine and beer were not even common alcoholic drinks during Gandhiji’s time. Therefore, I doubt if the constitution had the two in mind as ‘intoxicating drinks’ at the time.”

Several studies on the health effects of wine and extensive scientific research conducted during the last 30 years have confirmed its benefits and most cardiologists believe a glass of wine a day is good for the heart, besides numerous other benefits with no significant negative effect at that level of intake, the letter goes on to say.

“Wine is a medicinal product and as such is not directly covered under Article 47. A lot of ayurvedic medicines in India already sell compositions using resins in part fermented form; several chemists and a well-known pharma company have acknowledged as such.”

Arora pointed out there has been a marked change in the government’s stand in the area of wine in recent years. Maharashtra and Karnataka have encouraging wine policies. Uttarakhand has also started giving wine making licenses.

“The fact that states encourage production but the state banquets do not serve wine is a symbol of hypocrisy and indicates double standards,” the letter said.

“Finally, your government still does not differentiate between wine (general alcohol level 11-14 percent) and hard liquor (alcohol above 40 percent) resulting in increasing consumption of liquor.

“By introducing Indian wine only, at the state banquets, the right message would go to the people that wine is a food product, different than liquor and healthy and should be taken in moderation and that we are proud of our wine.”

A newsletter of the Indian Wine Academy said subsequently tongue-in-cheek: “There has been no response so far to the plea to the president’s office. Therefore, one can be optimistic only and believe that the request paper is moving in the corridors of power and will take its usual course - perhaps a few decades (before wine is served at state banquets).”

A Rashtrapati Bhavan spokesperson said the president gets hundreds of letters and petitions and this one would be processed in due course and acknowledged.

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