Chennai, July 21: After five terms as chief minister, M. Karunanidhi has come round to the view that liquor is the root of all social evil and promised to ban it.
He said yesterday that "if the DMK came back to power it would take all steps to implement prohibition for social betterment", echoing Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar who too has promised a dry state if he wins a third term.
Karunanidhi said that in the absence of prohibition the poor, labourers, farmers and even students had become addicted to liquor and were losing their lives. "Even women and children have become victims to this harmful habit. This has raised the question, 'why not reimpose prohibition?'"
In 1971, it was Karunanidhi as chief minister who had lifted prohibition in Tamil Nadu for the first time, arguing that illicit liquor flowing from neighbouring states had made it impractical.
"Tamil Nadu is like a camphor surrounded by the fire of liquor in the neighbouring states," he had argued then.
However, in 1974, Karunanidhi himself reintroduced prohibition after his rival M.G. Ramachandran's promise of banning liquor went down well with women.
Ever since, the state has seen a flip-flop liquor policy. MGR lifted prohibition in 1981, arguing that illicit hooch was killing the poor. He introduced arrack and toddy through state-run shops and IMFL through private dealers. In 1983, he banned arrack and toddy but allowed IMFL to continue to be sold, making state-owned agency TASMAC its sole wholesale distributor.
In 1989, Karunanidhi rolled out cheap arrack sold in sachets but Jayalalithaa in 1991 abolished it. She however left IMFL untouched and in 2003 had TASMAC take over retail distribution as well.
The demand for prohibition has become louder in the last few years with smaller parties like the PMK and the MDMK campaigning for it.
The DMK and the AIADMK had been non-committal — having ruled the state, both parties were unwilling to let go of the revenue from stateowned liquor shops.
Revenue from liquor sales in 2014- 15 was Rs 26,188 crore and is expected to reach Rs 29,672 crore in 2015- 16, almost a quarter of the state's total revenue.
Critics of the Jayalalithaa government have pointed out that the earnings from liquor have been financing the state's freebies like rice, laptops, mixers, grinders and fans.
"On the one hand, they give gold for thaali (mangalsutra ) for young women but open more liquor shops which will render them widows in a few years," anti- liquor campaigner Tamizharuvi Maniyan said.
Kerala's crackdown on liquor sales has intensified the demand for prohibition in Tamil Nadu, which is likely to become an election issue now.
PMK founder S. Ramadoss ridiculed Karunanidhi's sudden support for prohibition, which he said was a desperate attempt to get women's votes.
"He is guilty of introducing liquor culture in the state," he said in a statement.