For the first time in the history of Tamil Nadu assembly elections, all the main Dravidian parties have struck a common chord. Alcohol Prohibition is in the main agenda of all parties this time.
Regretting the monopoly on liquor retail in 2003,the AIADMK has realised that cheap alcohol has taken a toll on the people's health.
Victims or vote banks
While all the Dravidian parties sympathise with the victims of cheap liqor, they also fear that they may lose out on the votes of people against prohibition. And if not prohibited, the parties may lose out on the votes of the womenfolk who are against alcohol.
This particular dilemma can specifically be seen in a village, bordering Puducherry. The people here believe that implementation of the regulation will be very difficult as the menfolk cannot live without alcohol here. Some even say that alcohol is their main driving force.
The families of these individuals, however, are delighted.
Implementing the regulation will certainly be difficult as the people here will oppose. After the declaration of the alcohol Prohibition, parties now fear that this will affect their voters' strategies. Some may even refuse to vote.
A farmer says,"We are farmers. If we don't drink, we can't work. A farmer's work is hard work,' he says.
Stories of alcohol addiction are also being shared. Ayyannar, a 37-year-old former kabbadi player joins the conversation and says he left sports for alcohol many years ago. "I drink for enjoyment, for jolly," he says.
Can the promise be kept?
With parties already reeling under the pressure of the people who are against the prohibition, the pressure coming from the NGOs is almost unbearable. Selvi, the head of a self-help group of 1500 women said that the promise should be kept.
The reason being, most of the men in three villages under one Panchayat have turned out to be unproductive because of alcoholism.
"My husband also drinks. He's not violent but for most women it's causing a lot of family problems. It's the women that are suffering the most. Every woman wants prohibition. Their husbands do not give them even a quarter of their earnings, they have to struggle to educate and feed their children, the men come home drunk, beat the wives, it's all too much," says Selvi.
Another woman with a 24-year old son has to spend Rs 2,000 a week on dialysis as both his kidneys are damaged from alcoholism.
Prohibition, a bad idea?
The men, however, provide a 'logical' explanation for removing the prohibition. It will drive people to drink illicit liquor. And there will always be other places to get booze".
For instance, Puducherry is known to be the alcohol destination of the country and it finds a surge in alcohol tourists during the weekend who come here for private alcohol retailers that have always stocked more variety than TASMAC, Tamil Nadu government's liquor marketing arm, and without the high taxes.
Incidentally, the East Coast Road from Chennai to Puducherry is infamous for drunken driving accidents.
Parties having an advantage point
While the idea of prohibition was not taken seriously even last election, the point was driven home by an activist and anti-liqor campaigner Sashi Perumal fell to his death from a lamppost he climbed during a protest against the TASMAC shops in Nagercoil.
The DMK jumped to this opportunity to make its election agenda of prohibition clear. It was followed by Vaiko, Vijayakanth and Dalit leader Thol Thirumavalavan.
However, it was PMK's founder V. Ramadoss who had sounded the clarion call long back. But the timing of prohibition declaration by the DMK was what pushed it ahead in the melee, in fact scooping a number of women voters from the AIADMK pockets.
Experts see a strategy
Experts will agree with Ramu Mannivannan, a political analyst and Madras University professor, who analyses the real reason behind the promise. Abolition at a go or in phases, both may not be possible, both due to practical and political reasons.
Both AIADMK and DMK are alleged to have made huge profits from liqor sales. "Even if prohibition comes in, there is bound to be a huge hooch tragedy, and whoever is the chief minister will announce that 'with a heavy heat and tears in my eyes, I am signing this order to lift the liquor ban'," said A. R Venkatachalapathy of Madras Institute of Development Studies.
Whatever the case be, alcohol prohibition is a ticket to win the Chief Ministrial chair. However, it depends on how these parties utilise it by framing or destroying the state.