Gandhiji’s stand on prohibition: Time, objective & its irrelevance today

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Pre-independence, even our money wasn’t really ours:

The role of Gandhiji in helping to bring about Indian independence is well documented.  What is also well known is that the idea of non violence and passive resistance in gaining support from the public in Gandhiji’s struggle for India’s independence.  What is less known is the economic strategy behind Gandhiji’s objective in limiting the economic strength of the British Government.  Gandhiji’s argument that prohibition was patriotic made sense because any diminution in consumption, let alone a complete ban, would hurt imperial finances. In 1930-1931, for example, the excise (on liquor) amounted to 33 percent of total revenues in Bombay province (which then included the current Gujarat and Maharashtra states) and 31 percent in Madras province.  Gandhiji was also against consumption of tea, the sale of which, again added to the imperial government’s coffers.

The well-documented “passive resistance” has lost its original meaning and, today, people only think of fasting (popularized by Gujarat politicians who jump at the chance to fast for anything), but prohibition was one of the straws as a “satyagrahi” move to counter the taxes the imperial power collected to keep Indians under their control. Not only this, but the call for prohibition placed Indian nationalists in a position of moral superiority over their foreign overlords. Acknowledging the likely loss in revenue, Gandhiji cheerfully suggested that the British could offset their losses by reducing military expenditure. Because most Indian drinkers were poor, illiterate, and lacking in political influence, prohibition was a policy with few political disadvantages.  Importantly, it was an issue on which Hindus and Muslims could make common cause against the British*

However, today, prohibition can no longer be seen as patriotic but a suppression of individual rights by the state.  Today we live in a free and democratic India, where the fundamental rights of an individual should be recognized, respected and it should be the role of the Government to ensure the same.  Today, we pay taxes to our own democratically elected Government, unfortunately some of which are going to bootleggers and corrupt politicians because of prohibition.  Prohibition today is more akin to the lack of prohibition before independence, since before prohibition taxes went to the imperial Government and today the profits and revenues of liquor consumption go towards fuelling corruption and crimes since an overwhelming majority of the drinkers in Gujarat have to resort to buying liquor through bootleggers.  Hence, the economic objective of prohibition needs to be reviewed and revised.


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