CHENNAI: DMK president M Karunanidhi on Monday night sprung a surprise by joining the political chorus for introducing prohibition in Tamil Nadu and declared that if his party was voted to power, he would take intense steps to shutdown liquor outlets. “If elected to power, the DMK would take intense steps to implement prohibition as it would lead to social change and development,” he announced in a brief statement.
Incidentally, Karunanidhi has been widely criticised for his frequent flip-flops on the issue of prohibition. For, he was the first chief minister to lift prohibition in Tamil Nadu in 1971. At that time the DMK warhorse had justified his decision saying, “Tamil Nadu could not remain like camphor in the midst of raging fire” in an apparent reference to the free flow of liquor in the neighbouring states.
However, in 1975 he reintroduced prohibition. Liquor shops made a re-entry in 1981 when his successor M G Ramachandran (MGR) of the AIADMK was in power. Two years later, MGR launched the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC), which now has monopoly over liquor trade in the State since the early 2000s.
Considering the massive revenue generated by the TASMAC, introducing prohibition is considered unviable by revenue managers.
Nonetheless, with almost all parties such as the PMK, MDMK, DMDK, Congress, BJP, VCK and TMC launching protests and campaigns seeking prohibition, Karunanidhi appears to have found it politically prudent to latch on to this as a poll plank. “Hundreds of poor people, farmers, labourers and even students are losing their lives by consuming liquor. There were reports that even women and infants were harmed by the cruel liquor habit,” he said.
A section of analysts feels that the DMK leader is seeking to find common ground with the smaller parties on the issue of prohibition in a bid to forge an electoral alliance with them. This could also help the party blunt attacks of the PMK, which has accused Karunanidhi of being responsible for lifting prohibition in 1971.
Denying this, DMK organising secretary T K S Elangovan insisted that Karunanidhi’s stand is not a knee-jerk reaction to the political chorus that has built over the issue of prohibition. “Our leader has been toying with this thought for several months. We were of the view that introducing prohibition could be announced as a promise in our Assembly election manifesto. But now since MDMK, Left and other parties have started announcing protests seeking closure of liquor outlets, our leader thought it would be right to declare his stand now,” Elangovan contended.
However, another section speculated that Karunanidhi had issued the statement in a bid to take political credit if prohibition was announced by the State itself.
TN’s Liquor Policy over the years
■ Prohibition was first introduced in the erstwhile Madras Presidency in 1937 by the Congress government headed by C Rajagopalachari
■ It was lifted by the DMK government in 1971 and re-introduced in 1975
■ AIADMK founder MGR lifted prohibition in 1981 and established the TASMAC in 1983
■ Prohibition was introduced in 1988 and lifted again in 1990 by the DMK government
■ Prohibition was enforced again during the first tenure of AIADMK supreme Jayalalithaaa, who lifted it in 2001
■ TASMAC became the wholesale monopoly for alcohol, while for retain vending, the State auctioned off licenses for running liquor shops and bars
■ In October 2003, the govt passed an amendment to the Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act, 1937, making TASMAC the sole retail vendor of alcohol in the State
■ By 2004 all private outlets selling alcohol were either shut down or taken over by the company