J Jayalalitha, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and leader of the AIADMK, launching her party&’s campaign for the 16 May Assembly election, made a surprise announcement that if her party was voted back to power she would introduce prohibition in a phased manner even as her government continued to slap sedition charges on those agitating for the closure of the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation, established by her mentor and former Chief Minister, MG Ramachandrn, in 1983, for procurement and sale of alcoholic beverages in the state. The latest anti-liquor victim was Gandhian Samba Siva Rao, picked up in front of the AIADMK office in Chennai by the police on 6 April and found missing ever since. Retail sale of alcohol was made the exclusive privilege of government owned TASMAC and its outlets, numbering more than 6,800 spread across Tamil Nadu, and they are licensed to run bars. Five IAS officers under the supervision of a minister for ‘Prohibition’ with thousands of employees run TASMAC and their brief is to promote sale. In the last five years TASMAC has more than doubled its revenue from Rs. 14,965.42 crore in 2010-11 to Rs. 29,000 crore in 2015-16. Jayalalitha&’s companions run liquor manufacturing companies and are major suppliers to TASMAC. Jayalalitha always maintained that prohibition never succeeded anywhere in the world. Her promise of introducing prohibition has as much credibility as that of the six-party “Captain&’s Front” led by film star-turned politician, Vijayakant, to split anti-Jayalalitha votes, promising instant prohibition.
There is a wide chasm between Jayalalitha&’s promise and performance. Her 2011 election manifesto contained 54 promises, among them the setting up of 10 solar energy parks of 300 MW each. It still remains a paper project. To prevent theft of electricity, she promised a special force of retired defence personnel. Ex-servicemen continue to wait for its formation. Power theft continues to be a major problem faced by the electricity board. Not even 10 per cent of the promises have been implemented in the last five years. People do not take election manifestos seriously but expect promises made in the Legislative Assembly to be implemented. During the last five years, Jayalalitha made 187 announcements in the Assembly under Rule 110, involving an expenditure of Rs. 172,196 crore. Pleas to publish a White Paper on the subject were turned down. Jayalalitha is not in the habit of addressing press conferences. No one knows what has become of these projects. What makes Jayalalitha popular with the electorate, particularly the weaker sections of society who constitute the majority in Tamil Nadu, is the distribution of 20 kg of rice per family a month free and the opening of heavily subsidised ‘Amma Canteens’ all over the state where one can fill his stomach with hygienically prepared food for about Rs. 10. She has successfully eradicated hunger and starvation from the state by utilising the revenue from TASMAC. The daily wage earners are happy that they could relax in the nearby TASMAC bar in the evening knowing that they will not have to face children crying of hunger at home. Walking the talk may not be a virtue of Jayalalitha but she and TASMAC have become inseparable as long as she wants to remain in power.