Interview: Vaiko

‘We need total prohibition’

Print edition : September 04, 2015

MARUMALARCHI Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) general secretary Vaiko was at the forefront of an agitation demanding prohibition that turned violent in his native village, Kalingapatti, in Tirunelveli district on August 2. He has been charged with attempt to murder, but has not been arrested.

During Jayalalithaa’s previous stint (2002-06) as Chief Minister of the State, Vaiko and eight other MDMK leaders were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) in July 2002 for making speeches in support of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) a month earlier at Tirumangalam near Madurai. He was lodged in jail for 19 months. In an interview to Frontline, Vaiko said there should be no politics in the movement for prohibition and that total prohibition was implementable and necessary. Excerpts:

If you wanted a TASMAC liquor-vending outlet closed, you could have approached the court and got an order to that effect. Kalingapatti village panchayat passed a resolution in 2002. Why did you resort to violence?

The resolution has not been respected. As the president of the village panchayat, my brother had represented to the District Collector. But it was not taken seriously. The Collector’s office dismissed it offhand. One day, I saw a schoolboy buying alcohol at the village shop. I stopped my vehicle and went towards the shop. The boy ran away. The person at the counter told me that the boy had come to get change for a higher denomination note. I consider the government school in my village as my own. The TASMAC shop is a bad influence on people. I told the people to take a decidion on this issue. Ninety-five per cent of the villagers are with me. It will not take us long to destroy the shop.

After Sasi Perumal’s death, my mother spoke to the villagers and decided to organise an agitation in front of the liquor shop. But the shop reopened the next day. At least out of deference to his memory, they could have kept the shop shut for a few days. My question is if the majority of residents of my village do not want the shop, then why is it still here? If I can’t have a liquor shop in my own village removed, what moral right do I have to ask for the removal of TASMAC shops across the State?

I have not organised a single political meeting in my village in the past 30 years. Even the local AIADMK [All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam] cadres are not against the removal of the shop. I tried to convince the administration and the police. It just got out of hand because there was an altercation as I walked towards the shop and the police tried to prevent us from reaching the shop. Seeing this, the young people in my village got angry and destroyed the shop. Though I appealed for calm, the police made a lathi charge and lobbed tear gas shells.

Why did you not want politicians to take over the agitation? Will any agitation be successful without the involvement of political parties?

It will be successful without politicians. All over the world there are examples, such as the Jasmine Revolution [the Tunisian civil resistance that began in 2010]. We can support. That’s all. We are a limited force. The big political parties will not get into it. They will issue statements in support just to garner votes. Some leaders ask for prohibition so that their people can make illicit arrack.

Is this momentum that we see now in the agitation for prohibition because of the interest shown by political parties or because of the death of Sasi Perumal?

As far as we are concerned, from 2004 we have been holding protests demanding prohibition. The momentum came from Sasi Perumal’s death. That created a huge wave [in favour of prohibition]. There was also wrong handling by the government. Trying to conduct the post-mortem at night, arresting his son and daughter—the government could have avoided these.

It is the arrogance of the government and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. I’m trying to galvanise support so that the movement is propelled in the right way. I’m not doing this for political gain. I’ve already told the people not to trust any political party.

So do political parties have a role in this movement?

There’s a role. When all political parties say the same thing, then people will begin thinking. But more than that, the visual of a small boy being forcibly fed alcohol and such other images have created a huge impact on the people.

There is a Gujarat model of total prohibition and then there is a Kerala model of gradual prohibition. Which is suitable for Tamil Nadu?

We need total prohibition. The argument will be that hooch tragedies will happen. Let me ask you: despite all sections of the Indian Penal Code being in force, are crimes not taking place? So can we scrap the IPC? Hooch will not be as easily accessible as TASMAC alcohol.

R.K. Radhakrishnan

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