Problems of Gandhiism: Anti-liquor movement gains momentum in Tamil Nadu against will of government
-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
Liquor is considered to be the root cause for minor crimes in the society as it also plays a major role in the atrocities against women in public places. Above all, it has been destroying vital human resources, one of the major assets of the nation, he said and added that his relentless fight against this evil (liquor) will resume shortly in a different way. Unfortunately, the elected governments in India promote the evil. Liquor is closely linked to corruption and other societal evils.
Mahatma Gandhi opposed liquorization of societies but Congress party which he promoted now promotes liquor culture and does not work for the total prohibition in India.. During electioneering, every political party offers free liquor, among other bribes, to people.
Prohibition in India exists only in a few states – Gujarat, Nagaland and parts of Manipur; as well as the Union Territory of Lakshadweep. Lakshadweep completely bans the sale and consumption of alcohol. However, consumption is permitted on the island of Bangaram. Bangaram is an uninhabited island, but the Bangaram Island Resort has a bar.
Kerala where people simply cannot live without liquor is implementing prohibition in phased manner but the powerful mafia of liquorlords who have close links with ministers, according to State Congress president M. Sudheeran, is trying hard to obstruct and derail prohibition efforts of the state. All other Indian states and union territories permit the sale of alcohol, making the life of house wives difficult although all states also talk about women empowerment. Gandhian Sudheeran who spearheads anti-liquor movement and demanded a total ban on liquor flow in the state where there is total literacy, is instrumental in the prohibition act of the government which unwillingly to ban liquor in a sustained manner.
Since the pre-Independence days, Tamil Nadu has been a testing ground for implementing prohibition. Decades ago, the call for prohibition was given by late leader Rajaji. Later, as Premier of the Madras presidency in 1937, he was the first to implement prohibition. Until the Congress was in power, there has been a steady policy on prohibition. But, after the Dravidian parties took over the reins, the policy was given up. While there is huge popular support prohibition, the Toddy Movement led by farmers’ leader S Nallusamy, is campaigning for reviving the sale of toddy in the State.
Both DMK and AIADMK parties promote liquor culture in Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu, now being ruled essentially by a woman, actress turned CM J. Jayalalithaa, let the liquor flow as freely as possible, though it offers a lot of freebies to people to get their votes. Dry law in Tamil Nadu has had a chequered history. Earlier, total prohibition was first introduced in the then Madras province, comprising Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh (which included Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema) when C. Rajagopalachari became Chief Minister in 1952. After the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in 1953, the then Madras province, which was later re-named Tamil Nadu, remained dry for about two decades under Congress rule. But later prohibition was struck was reintroduced, and of and on, liquor is made available in TN and Andhra Pradesh. In AP N. T. Rama Rao’s successor N. Chandrababu Naidu repealed prohibition in 1997, claiming that it was “not successful or feasible because of the leakages within the state and from across the borders”
Prohibition continued even after DMK founder C N Annadurai formed his first government in 1967. However, when the party came back to power with a landslide victory in 1971, the bold DMK suspended prohibition. Ever since, prohibition has been wavering. It was the then DMK Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, who opened the State’s alcohol floodgates in 1972, stating that Tamil Nadu could not remain an island when liquor was freely flowing in neighbouring states, especially Kerala. “Tamil Nadu cannot serve as camphor in the midst of raging fire,’’ was Karunanidhi’s infamous justification for lifting prohibition. Yet, he reintroduced prohibition in 1973. His successor, actor turned CM M G Ramachandran, who came to power in 1977, relaxed total prohibition but brought in strict regulations and made liquor available only to permit holders. However, he could not sustain the drill and gave it up in 1980. The State saw the mushrooming of arrack and toddy shops too, when the DMK came to power in 1989. The DMK people made huge money from liquor business and became billionaires.
When J Jayalalithaa took office as CM in 1991, the first file she signed brought the shutters down on arrack and toddy shops. In 2003, another major change swept the State’s alcohol policy. The AIADMK government took over the sale of IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor) and opened TASMAC shops to tap the huge revenue that was flowing into the hands of private parties.
Today, liquor flows freely across the Tamil state at par with other states were no prohibition is a law.
The anti-liquor movement in Tamil Nadu has not made the AIADMK government budge and bring in liquor prohibition as the ruling ADMK has massive majority in the assembly and its freebies ocer up the impact of anti-liquor movement.
Recently, parties like Pattali makkal Party (PMK) of Ramadass and the Bharatiya Janata Party have organised demonstrations and women’s rallies. Referring to reports that liquor worth Rs. 150 crore was sold on Deepavali, generation of revenue should not be at the cost of savings, social health and families. BJP had devised programmes to attract different section of voters, particularly the youth. People from various walks of like, including many not connected either with the BJP or Narendra Modi, are showing interest in working for a change. The BJP says the party would utilize the non-conventional media, including social media, to reach out to the first-time voters in the age bracket of 18 and 25 years.
BJP’s focus is not on people’s agonies but on enhancing BJP’s tally from TN and the south.
Representatives of over 300 Tamil women self help groups located in and around Gandhigram have decided to intensify the anti-liquor campaign and have pledged to make at least one village liquor free zone. To begin with, the representatives along with other members of SHGs interacted with youth, farmers, workers and elders in villages around Gandhigram local panchayat and spread the message regarding the ill effects of liquor. They also met students in school and colleges and inspire them to take an oath against liquor.
Addressing the SHGs meet in this connection at the Gandhigram Trust campus at Gandhigram near Salem, organizers of People’s Federation Against Liquor and Gandhian Sasi Perumal said that that role of rural women in eradicating liquor was vital. First, women should bring about a change in the minds of the male members in their family and then in their neighbours. A small effort taken by women in each family will certainly snowball into a great movement and ultimately create a strong and healthy society, he advised. “What we need is a will and a determination to stop this evil and create a change in society,” a leader added. Addressing the gathering, Gandhigram Trust trustee M.R. Rajagopal said that women members of 1,500 SHGs, comprising 30,000 members under its control will spearhead the campaign against liquor at villages within their work area. Representatives of SHGs from Nilakottai, Athoor, Kodaikanal, Andipatti and Gandhigram participated.
The demand for total prohibition has been there for a long time in Tamil Nadu. But, it acquired momentum in the past few years due to the alarming rise in alcohol-induced crimes. However, in 2014 there was a new-found vigour in the campaign for prohibition and the year was witness to agitations by women and residents in one part of the other of the State to remove TASMAC shops in their area with the government too obliging on a few occasions. Students, civil society organisations and political parties took to the strteets to press for making the state alcohol-free. It was the frution of the seeds sown in 2013 by Gandhian Sasi Perumal besides political leaders like PMK founder S Ramadoss and MDMK leader Vaiko.
It will be no exaggeration to say that Sasi Perumal was solely responsible for drawing the attention of the State in 2013 and kindling a widespread debate on the issue. He was on a fast for 36 days despite deteriorating health with many political and apolitical personalities extending support to his steadfast struggle. In the political arena, the lone crusader for this cause for quite some years was the PMK founder. But, in 2013, many other political parties also woke up to the problem and started singing the chorus, taking the discourse to another level. Among them, Vaiko’s efforts and his passionate campaign were laudable. He went on a padayatra to many parts of the State. Continuing his crusade, he has been advocating that the AIADMK government implement prohibition to retain power in the 2016 Assembly elections.
Kerala’s decision to implement prohibition in a phased manner has ignited a spark in Tamil Nadu as well. Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has said that 700 bars would be closed down besides Sundays remaining dry days. This has given further momentum for anti-liquor chorus here. Ramadoss, wanted TN to follow suit. A youth organisation has come up with a novel digital campaign wherein people could express solidarity for the prohibition demand through a missed call to the mobile number 91- 8144166099.
Yet, there are personalities like actor cum editor Cho S Ramaswamy who are pessimistic about the possibility of enforcing prohibition. But, the pro-prohibition activists highlight the social cost of alcohol consumption. In 2014, Sasi Perumal undertook a fast for several days in Delhi. Latter, he and his supporters selected 36 TASMAC shops in and around Chennai, and campaigned against alcoholism. On behalf of Liquor Prohibition Movement – Tamil Nadu, students and activists took out a 100-day padayatra from places including Kanyakumari, Tuticorin and Ettaiyapuram which would culminate at the Marina on January 12, 2015. They say would repeat this many more times.
On the future course of action, Sasi Perumal says: “We are planning to move the Supreme Court seeking directions to enforce prohibition across the country.” And on January 30, the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, undertook an indefinite fast urging the Centre to implement prohibition. AIADMK and central government just ignored. In this connection, on November 25, he met Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and submitted a representation. In his view, it would be unfair to sell the Indian Made Foreign Liquor through the TASMAC shops. Nallusamy says the Toddy Movement would stage regular fasts in the city urging the government to change its Prohibition and Alcohol policies and allow toddy extraction in the State.
The women’s movement in Andhra Pradesh originated from the anti arrack (anti liquor) movement started by the state’s rural women in the 1990s. The state government built on its momentum to start a women’s literacy movement.