PATNA: “Our resolve — a liquor-free, dowry-free and child marriage-free nation,” reads the large poster that greets visitors at the JD(U) office on Beer Chand Patel Path in Patna.
Hung a few days after the Election Commission announced the schedule of the seven-phase Lok Sabha election, the poster — with pictures of chief minister Nitish Kumar and other JD(U) leaders — is an indication that prohibition will become a major poll issue both for the NDA and the RJD-led grand alliance.
These will be the first general elections after Bihar was declared a dry state in April 2016. JD(U) is hoping prohibition will get it women’s votes. “People, especially women, are happy with the liquor ban,” says JD(U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar. “What is wrong in making prohibition an election issue? The government has implemented it in the larger interest of people, especially the poor. Incidents of domestic violence have reduced substantially post prohibition,” he adds.
But the RJD and other opposition parties have been critical of the decision, saying it has encouraged smuggling of liquor. “Nitish will have to pay a heavy price for it during the forthcoming election,” says RJD MLA from Maner Bhai Virendra. “Instead of bringing smiles on the faces of the poor, who were the worst sufferers, prohibition has turned out to be a money-minting business for government officials and police.”
That’s why, according to Virendra, RJD will roll back prohibition if voted to power. “We remain firm on our stand,” he says. Shivanand Tiwari, RJD’s national vice-president, adds, “Nitish will definitely make prohibition a key poll issue in Bihar as he will say his government has fulfilled the vision of Mahatma Gandhi and curbed violence against women. But even women are saying liquor is readily available in the state despite prohibition. He (Nitish) has also made the police department highly corrupt as there are a number of cases where cops have been involved in liquor smuggling. Prohibition has failed to serve its purpose and given rise to other crimes.”
Under the prohibition law in Bihar, manufacture, storage, consumption and sale of liquor are banned. Though Gujarat is also a dry state too, Bihar is the only state where stringent laws have been framed.
A senior prohibition, excise and registration department official said 38 lakh litres of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and 23 lakh litres of country liquor were seized since prohibition came into force. So far, more than 2 lakh arrests have been made for violation of prohibition laws. The law was diluted in July 2018 to reduce the quantum of punishment. This included a penalty of Rs 50,000 for a first-time offender, which was earlier punishable with a jail term of 5-10 years.