Ms. Jayalalithaa eased into the subject midway through her speech at a meeting to launch the party’s campaign for the Assembly polls. While liquor could not be abolished with a single stroke, her goal was to implement a phased project that would end in complete prohibition, she said. Elaborating on the process, Ms. Jayalalithaa said first the working hours of the TASMAC liquor shops would be reduced, the number of shops would then be reduced, the bars attached to them closed, and rehabilitation centres would be opened.
As election watchers speculated on whether Ms. Jayalalithaa’s announcement would take the wind out of the Opposition’s sails, she charted a clear roadmap for what possibly the biggest issue for the current elections. Anticipating reactions, Ms. Jayalalithaa said she had considered the ramifications before taking a decision. “Everyone knows that if I make an announcement, I will implement it,” she said, apparently countering questions about her silence on the campaign for prohibition following the death of anti-liquor activist Sasi Perumal last year.
“I have always wanted to bring about complete prohibition. But it is not possible to bring this in with a single signature. It can only be implemented in phases. More than one generation has grown up in the period since 1971, when the DMK re-introduced the sale of alcohol. Therefore, it is not possible to do this in a day,” she said to a thundering applause.
In 1937, prohibition was introduced in Salem, and then expanded to the other areas, Ms. Jayalalithaa said.
It was on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday in 1948 that the region, now known as Tamil Nadu, came under the blanket of complete prohibition. But, in 1971, despite an impassioned plea from freedom fighter C. Rajagopalachari, Mr. Karunanidhi lifted the ban.
In June of the same year, he had spoken in the Tamil Nadu Assembly that while the sale of liquor was prohibited by law, it actually was a flourishing cottage industry. Ms. Jayalalithaa recalled that Mr. Karunanidhi had said everyone knew that this was the case. Again in 2007, when a debate started on eradicating illicit arrack, he said it was impossible to get rid of it.
“In 1991, when I became the Chief Minister, I put an end to cheap liquor since I had made a promise to the mothers,” she said.
“Though the loss from this amounted to Rs. 400 crore, I went ahead with the decision.”
Mr. Karunanidhi had taken “anticipatory bail” by bringing up prohibition, since the people were sure that once she made an announcement, she would implement it, Ms. Jayalalithaa said.
She also touched on the freebie schemes, the welfare and support schemes, especially for the women and the post-floods rehabilitation work in her hour-long address to a huge, excited audience that had gathered on the Island Grounds.
(With inputs from Deepa H Ramakrishnan)