CHENNAI: After a long gap, a period when it was a matter of concern only to Gandhian activists and the like, prohibition has returned to occupy the political discourse in Tamil Nadu. Now, with just less than a year left for assembly polls, more and more parties are joining the chorus for a clamp down on liquor.
The credit for turning prohibition into an election issue goes to anti-liquor activists, campaigning at the grass-root level and interacting with thousands of affected families. While these activists as well some organisations have been consistently engaged in this for many years, political parties jumped on to the bandwagon only in the recent couple of years, the lone exception being the PMK.
Reluctant or not, as the campaign has gained considerable momentum, no party can face the 2016 Assembly election without clarifying its stand on prohibition, maintain activists.
“We have declared 2016 as year of prohibition. With Assembly elections just 10 months away, we are planning to meet leaders of all political parties, ascertain their stand and put it before the public so that they may know who is on which side of the fence,” says Senthil Arumugam, general secretary, Satta Panchayat Iyakkam (SPI). Political parties have latched on to this issue in the hope of garnering votes, especially that of women. “Is any party ready to announce that their cadre will court arrest for prohibition and would not come out of prison until prohibition is clamped? That kind of conviction is not there since they are worried only about votes,” was his reasoning.
To stress how alive this issue is among people, Arumugam pointed out that his organisation received 14,865 missed calls pledging solidarity within three months of launching the campaign. Of them, about 2,500 have agreed to take part in the campaign.
It is after many years that the State is witnessing such an upsurge from the civil society and political parties for enforcing prohibition, the seeds for which were sown by Gandhian Sasi Perumal and political leaders like PMK founder S Ramadoss and MDMK leader Vaiko in 2013.
However, it should be noted that the two Dravidian majors, ruling the State for nearly half a century, are silent on this issue, even though some of their second rung leaders argue that prohibition could nto be enforced. Electricity and Excise Minister R Viswanathan, for instance, had gone on record in the State Assembly that prohibition was not possible.
An expert studying the undercurrents of Tamil Nadu politics for a long, told Express that a few parties have a vested interest in demanding prohibition. “A key functionary of a party was in control of eight districts, taking care of the flow of ‘illicit liquor’ thus making a huge revenue for the party. If prohibition is back, they will be naturally happy,” he claimed.
Yet, even as political leaders compete with one another on being the loudest on the issue, there are others who counter the need for prohibition as well as its efficacy. C Lakshmanan, assistant professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies, is of the view that total prohibition is impossible at this juncture. “What is possible is restriction on liquor sale - like reducing working hours of TASMAC shops,” he said.
Admitting the upsurge among people, particularly women, in demanding prohibition, Lakshmanan added: “Women in rural areas do not know the nuances of illicit liquor flow and hence the demand. They believe that men of their families will stop consuming liquor if prohibition is in place. They are little aware of the fact that it will pave the way for illicit liquor besides fuelling corruption. Above all, there will be a huge hole in the State’s revenue. Even in Gujarat where prohibition is in force for long, illicit liquor cannot be contained effectively.”
Meanwhile, the Toddy Movement is campaigning for reviving the sale of toddy. Its leader S Nallusamy argues that toddy is a part of food items. According to him, it is unfair to sell Indian Made Foreign Liquor through TASMAC shops while proscribing indigenous, natural beverage, toddy.