Politics of prohibition leaves Bihar, Tamil Nadu high & dry!

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However, unlike the ban on porn which ranged the Opposition against the ruling BJP , a ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol has not only made strange bedfellows of the BJP  and Opposition parties such as the Congress and the DMK but also exposed the hypocrisy of the Sangh Parivar. While the BJP has joined the Congress, the DMK  and other political parties in Tamil Nadu to demand a ban on liquor, its chief minister in Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, has said that he has no plans to enforce prohibition in the state.

Giving Fadnavis company is Aaditya Thackeray, the 25-year-old son of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and grandson of the party’s late founder and ideologue Bal Thackeray. The Shiv Sena might be a conservative party but the late Thackeray was a Bacchus lover who swore by warm beer until he swapped it for white wine. Aaditya left no one in doubt about where he stands on prohibition when he wrote to Fadnavis on 16 February asking the latter to accept the Shiv Sena-controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s proposal to allow eateries and malls to remain open all night. “The thriving night life will give an impetus to economy. Business will benefit [and so will] the government [from an increase in] revenue through the existing taxes,” he wrote.

Now, one can’t quibble over revenue. For, it was revenue which impelled DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi of Tamil Nadu or Chandrababu Naidu of undivided Andhra Pradesh in 1971 and 1997, respectively, to lift prohibition. It is loss of revenue again which Fadnavis and Jayalalithaa cite to defend their respective liquor policies. Only Oommen Chandy in Kerala has enforced partial prohibition from August 2014.

If India’s experience is any indicator, prohibition is honoured more in the breach. It burdens an already skeletal police force which can barely fulfil its mandate of maintaining law and order and investigating crimes. Also, high taxes on liquor encourage bootlegging and moonshine, which, in turn, result in deaths, as evidenced most recently in the Malvani hooch tragedy in Maharashtra which claimed 100-odd lives and in Uttar Pradesh where over 30 people died in January. Yet, what cannot be discounted is that a compelling case can be made for a ban. One need only look at the World Health Organisation data (see table).

India is rum country and many swear by the Old Monk brand. Recently, rumours were afloat that its production might be stopped but the senior management of the company manufacturing it has since clarified that it would not be taken off the market. However, the joy of all those who enjoy their daily tipple of Old Monk in Bihar or Tamil Nadu might be short-lived if the ban comes into effect.

ramachandran@tehelka.com

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