news Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 05:30
  In a mildly surprising move, and what is being seen as a major policy shift, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi announced in Chennai that if the DMK comes to power after the 2016 TN Assembly elections, it will take steps towards the implementation of alcohol-prohibition in the state of Tamil Nadu. The former Chief Minister is reported to have justified the move stating the plight of young children and aged women who are suffering due to alcoholism. Why the announcement is surprising and being seen as a major policy shift is that both the DMK and AIADMK are notorious for a series of flip-flops over prohibition. In 1937, the Congress government in Tamil Nadu prohibited the sale and consumption of alcohol. The prohibition continued till 1971, when Karunanidhi lifted the prohibition in Tamil Nadu. In 1974 however, he re-introduced prohibition. During the next regime in 1981 CM MG Ramachandran of AIADMK withdrew the ban and established the TASMAC (Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation), institutionalising the liquor trade in Tamil Nadu. But again, in 1988, prohibition was introduced only to be lifted by the DMK in 1990. In 1991, AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa banned country liquor. Over the next decade, there were several deaths in the state due to spurious liquor. Finally in 2002, the AIADMK government decided to sell liquor at a cheaper rate to prevent deaths. Since then, both DMK and AIADMK, owing to the easy cash-cow that the liquor business turned out to be, have allowed the business to flourish in the state. In the past few years, there have been simmering tensions over increasing alcoholism in the state, and the corresponding cries for a ban on alcohol are only getting louder. In her detailed report in Economic Times in January 2015, Sandhya Ravishankar shows the increasing rage against alcoholism among women groups in the state. Several parties in Tamil Nadu, like the PMK, DMDK, MDMK and BJP have either called for prohibition or protested against the rot that is spreading through TASMAC. For the PMK, it has been a pet issue for years now. There have also been several murmurs for months now that the TN government under Jayalalithaa is mulling over phased-prohibition. That Tamil Nadu has had its ups and downs with prohibition raises question over how serious the DMK and other parties are about prohibition. Even so, it is a big decision to have been taken by the DMK at this juncture since several influential politicians of both DMK and AIADMK are known to have links to the liquor industry. So why is the DMK taking this stand, and why is this only mildly surprising? Here are at least four reasons. One, there is a momentum which is building up on the issue. Almost all political parties except the AIADMK and DMK, had already announced their support for prohibition. “Their call for prohibition was resonating among the people. Rallies on prohibition held by PMK and DMDK have got great response even in areas where the parties had no base, this clearly shows that people are inclined towards a crack down on alcohol,” says Karthigaichelvan, a senior journalist in Chennai. Two, this issue can attract a huge number of women voters. Women self help groups have been fighting a vigorous battle against alcoholism in the state. So any party which supports prohibition stands to gain women votes. For the DMK, this is a huge opportunity has Jayalalithaa-led ADMK is known to have a stronghold over women voters. Three, the DMK has not had a success with any other major issue. Its recent attempt to politicise the illness of Jayalalithaa has received flak from many. With the elections coming up, the DMK would not like to miss the bus on any issue which resonates with the people of the state. Four, and most importantly, DMK wants to pre-empt Jayalalithaa. With all political parties supporting the move already, and murmurs expecting an announcement from Jayalalithaa on prohibition, the DMK chief wanted to pull a quick one by supporting it before Jayalalithaa. Now, if the announcement is made by the government to phase-out alchohol, Karunanidhi can take credit for it, and if not, it becomes a political issue where Jayalalithaa has failed to deliver. DMK spokespersons are however being cautious over the issue. All spokesperson have consistently maintained that the move was being mulled over for months now and was not a sudden political suggestion. “We have been deliberating this since January, and it is evidenced by the resolutions passed by DMK Women’s Wing in the recent past against alcohol abuse and operations of TASMAC,” says Manuraj Shanmugasundaram, spokesperson of the DMK party. Party leaders however are quick to add that they are pragmatic about it. They are only seeking a phased transition towards prohibition with a long gestation period. Their focus, they say, will be more on cracking down on spurious alcohol, reducing timings of TASMAC outlets and rehabilitation of alcohol addicts. But the call for prohibition flies in the face of strong beliefs that complete ban on alcohol might not really be the solution. In a ground report from Attapadi in Kerala, TNM's Dhanya Rajendran shows how banning alcohol could only lead to more problems. And India has had its experience with failure of alcohol prohibition. It is a well established fact that prohibition only leads to increase in illicit trade of alcohol. As far back as 1964, when the Tek Chand committee on prohibition came out with its report, the Economic and Political Weekly had written, "The secret of the obstinate survival of illicit liquor is really that it is such a worthwhile business, both for those who carry it on and for those charged with curbing it. According to the Tek Chand Committee’s own mystic calculations, the margin of profit in the illicit liquor trade ranges from 200 per cent to 1,000 per cent! It could be argued, of course, that if the personnel charged with administering prohibition had “absolute conviction in the ideology” and had “an abiding faith and determination in accomplishing the task assigned” they would be impervious to the blandishments of boot-leggers…”  
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