In cocktail of populism, prohibition new heady mix
NEW DELHI: At the height of antialcohol protests in Tamil Nadu last year, Sasi Perumal went up a telephone tower with a can of kerosene, threatening to set himself on fire unless a local liquor shop was closed. As police tried to persuade him to come down, Perumal appeared to suffer a fatal cardiac arrest.
The 59-year-old campaigner’s death marked a turnaround in the debate over prohibition in the state, with all political parties promising to ban or restrict alcohol if voted to power in elections next month.
The Tamil parties are the latest to back prohibition in India, where a growing number of grassroots movements are pushing local governments to ban drinking. But more than any moral force, politicians appear to back such calls because they dovetail into the rights of women, a substantial vote-bank in any state.
“There is rich political dividend to be had from supporting prohibition,” Suhas Palshikar, professor of politics and public administration at the University of Pune, told the Hindustan Times.
“The promise to introduce prohibition is seen as one of the reasons Nitish Kumar may have received wide support among women voters in last year’s elections in Bihar.”
India’s experience with prohibition is patchy.
In the 1990s, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu briefly swore off the bottle before a cash crunch drove the states to see alcohol’s revenue-earning power. Bihar experimented with prohibition in the 1970s but lax enforcement saw the ban being eventually lifted.
CONTINUED ON P10