With the near-consensus on phased alcohol prohibition in Tamil Nadu, political parties and activists are now indulging in a game of one-upmanship to outdo each other on who is more vigorous in support of prohibitionism. But if recent events are an indication, what is at stake isn’t just credit for the anti-alcohol campaign, but also possible individual lives and public property. Protests in Tamil Nadu are now taking a violent turn.
On Monday morning, students protesting outside a TASMAC shop (these are TN govt owned outlets which sell liquor) were lathi-charged by the police. Male and female students of Pachaiyappa’s College protested in Aminjikarai in the city, and when some of the students started pelting stones at the shop, the police had to resort to physical violence to control them. In the ensuing chaos, several students, male and female, have been injured.
In Salem this morning, a TASMAC retail outlet was set on fire by unknown miscreants by drilling a hole in the asbestos sheets on the roof and throwing flammable materials inside the outlet.
On Sunday, Tirunelveli was witness to dramatic protests as villagers in Kalingapatti ransacked a TASMAC shop. The protests were being lead by MDMK Chief Vaiko. As frenzied protestors spun out of control, the police had to fire tear-gas shells to subdue the protests. Several protesters resisted arrests. Even as Vaiko continues his road roko, VCK Chief Thol. Thirumavalavan also met him at the venue and expressed his solidarity.
Vaiko has since been charged with rioting, attempt to murder, criminal trespass and disobeying a public servant among other charges. Amidst all the chaos, Vaiko has also called for students across Tamil Nadu to break down TASMAC shops.
On July 31, activists across the state were shocked to hear about the death of Gandhian Sasi Perumal during an anti-alcohol protest. Perumal had been demanding prohibition for years through an unrelenting and dedicated campaign.
DMK leader Stalin has also announced that all alcohol-distilleries in Tamil Nadu owned by members of the DMK will be shut down when they bring a new law for prohibition.
"This unruliness is only expected from the political parties. Elections are just ten months away and everyone wants to take credit for the campaign," says Gnani Sankaran, a political observer. He also says that exhorting students to protest against alcoholism is a perfect recipe for disaster. "As individuals they are fine, but as a collective they have the psyche to be unruly," he says.
Observers also say that the police being a given a free hand to deal with the protesters adds fuel to the fire.
Over the past few months, all political parties in Tamil Nadu have come together to call for prohibition. While for the PMK, alcohol prohibition is a pet issues, recently, Vaiko’s MDMK and Vijaykanth’s DMDK have also joined the chorus. And with the DMK too throwing in the hat, the campaign received further impetus. While there have been stray statements from the ruling dispensation, there has been no clear roadmap or policy from the AIADMK led government.
"There has been a cold-silence from Jayalalithaa on this issue. I think if the government comes out and says what its stand is and what it is going to do about it, tempers will come down. In the absence of a clear sign from the government, protests will only intensify," adds Gnani.
"The government has turned a blind eye towards a genuine people’s cause. They just have to come out and say that they will take action and work towards prohibition, but they are not doing this. The TN government is Minimum Governance, Maximum Arrogance," says Manuraj Shanmugasundaram, spokesperson of the DMK.
Meanwhile, DMK chief M Karunanidhi has announced state-wide "peaceful protests" seeking prohibition on August 10.