Almost four years ago, the Nitish Kumar government banned sale and consumption of alcohol when he was in alliance with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). A few months later he dumped RJD, but, the ban on alcohol continued because he wanted to create a new vote bank just like he did a decade ago through the creation of Extremely Backward Classes (EBC) out of OBC quota. EBC quota was hugely popular among the castes that got the benefit of quota and Kumar capitalized on this to come to power for two more terms. But by 2015 these castes started moving towards other parties, so Nitish Kumar tried to create a new vote bank out of women–whose family members were alcoholic–through the ban on its sale and consumption.
The alcohol ban was hugely popular among the targeted vote bank as an idea and Nitish Kumar hit bull’s eye with the ban, although it also made people unhappy. But the corrupt implementation of the alcohol ban in the last four years has made both parties unhappy. Given the fact, almost everyone has access to smuggled liquor–which is costlier and, therefore, a bigger financial burden on the households–due to laggard implementation of the ban, the women who supported Nitish Kumar back in 2016 are now against him. The other group, which was not happy with the ban, remains unhappy because they have to pay double or triple the price to bootleggers for the same quantity and quality adding the fear of getting caught by the police.
So, in the last four years, this very populist idea has not only made Nitish Kumar unpopular with both groups but also cost around 20,000 crore rupees in revenue to the Bihar government. And now most of the opposition, as well as the parties which are part of NDA, are attacking Nitish Kumar on the same.
Chirag Paswan, who is committed to dislodging Nitish Kumar from the CM chair, said, “In the name of liquor ban, people in Bihar are being labelled as smugglers. Bihar’s women- sisters and mothers – don’t want to see their own turning into smugglers. The chief minister knows the state is seeing a rise in smuggling of alcohol… seems everyone has taken a vow of silence.”
Previously, Jitan Ram Majhi, the former CM of Bihar and leader of Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), which is a part of NDA, said that he will raise the issue of liquor prohibition with Nitish Kumar if NDA comes to power. In a talk with Aaj Tak, he said that poor people who consume alcohol are pushed in jails while the liquor mafias are earning thousands of crores through liquor smuggling. He further said that he will request Nitish Kumar to amend the liquor prohibition act if NDA comes to power.
Moreover, the ban on alcohol consumption has led to the rise of bootlegging mafias as the ones emerging in Gujarat. The prohibition on liquor has given rise to many Abdul Latifs–the infamous bootlegger from Gujarat on whom the movie Raees is based–who are earning thousands of crores through smuggling. The thousands of crores they earn further goes into illegal and criminal activities leading to a vicious cycle. So, this money, which could have gone to state coffers and honest businessman’s pocket- which would lead to the welfare of the state- is now in the pocket of Bihar’s own Abdul Latif and would lead to rising of crime and additional burden on the criminal justice system in the low capacity state.
So the alcohol ban and the inefficient implementation of the same has, in fact, made Nitish Kumar more popular instead of creating a vote bank among women with alcoholic families. And, the opposition, as well as even the constituents of NDA who do not like Nitish Kumar, are making it a rallying point against the 69-year-old leader.