It was July this year when Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had just finished speaking at an event organised by the self help groups in Patna that a young woman from the audience stood up. “Sir, please put an end to the sale of liquor,” she requested Nitish. Her plea for a complete ban on liquor found tremendous support from a large number of women who had assembled for the event.
With elections around the corner, the astute politician vowed to ban liquor in return of their votes. “If all of you vote me to power again, I will certainly oblige you,” Nitish announced to a thunderous applause.
In the run up to the October-November elections, several women approached him again with their woes. Their grievance was that their menfolk, especially in the rural areas, spent a good part of their earnings on liquor resulting in a lot of strife in the family.
Days after his landslide win in November, Nitish kept his poll promise. At a function organised by the state’s excise department in Patna, he announced that Bihar would go dry from 1 April 2016. “During my tours across the state, I met several poor women who complained that their families were being destroyed due to the consumption of liquor by male members. They wanted me to impose a complete ban on the sale of daaru,” he said explaining his decision.
Till date, the contours of the ban have not been spelled out. There is no clarity whether it applies only to country liquor or would also include the sale of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL). Activists say the move is likely to impact the poor adversely. “Prima facie, this is a populist act. In the long term, this might negatively impact people from lower classes and castes, given the history of prohibition in several parts of the country,” documentary filmmaker Srijan Nandan tells Tehelka. “Powerful vested interests generally use people from these sections in the business of illicit liquor.”
Renowned writer NS Madhavan, a former IAS officer in the Bihar cadre, however feels that with this decision Nitish is reaching out to his women supporters. “There was a strong demand from women, cutting across all party affiliations to ban liquor. Nitish who capitalised on the support of women, was forced to act,” he says. Meena Tiwari, Central Committee member of Patna CPI(ML) and member of All India Progressive Women’s Association agrees. “It has been a long withstanding demand of the women of Bihar to ban the sale of alcohol and stop the distribution of licenses to alcohol mafias in the state. If Nitish Kumar is sincere about it then we consider it to be the victory of women of Bihar who have been struggling for this since long,” she says.