Catch 22 for Nitish Kumar on prohibition as political stock sinks

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By Manish Anand

New Delhi, December 20: The Janata Dal (United) MLAs have a new worry on hand. They are wary of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar going ‘hysterical’ over the issue of rolling back prohibition policy. The Saran hooch tragedy has taken lives of several people even while the state government seeks to understate the toll figure.

In a meeting with the JD U) legislators a few days ago, Kumar asked the MLAs if he should withdraw the prohibition law. The resounding response was a “No”. But Kumar, said Bihar-based political observers, knows that the MLAs were not seeking to displease him by giving an answer against his political obsession.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the big brother in the ruling alliance, would be too keen to see the back of the ban on consumption and distribution of liquor. Former deputy chief minister of Bihar and senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi has accused the state government of under reporting deaths in the Saran hooch tragedy, while pushing for compensation to the dependents of the victims.

“Kumar is explaining out the hooch tragedies in Bihar by giving instances of similar incidents in Gujarat. But the comparison is self-defeating, for Gujarat is also a state where prohibition is in place. Incidents only confirm that the prohibition doesn’t work,” said a senior Patna-based political observer.

The chief minister is stated to be under intense pressure as he is increasingly becoming aware that the political edifice which had gained strength from prohibition law is crumbling. The loss in the Kurhani Assembly seat at the hands of the BJP has added to the political woes of the chief minister. He had snapped the ties with the BJP apparently after nursing grievance that the BJP had pushed the JD (U) to the third slot in the state in the 2020 Assembly elections. But the trend has not reversed even after stitching an alliance for ‘social justice’. The Bihar-based political observers argued that the prohibition law is marginalizing the chief minister, for “women, who were his core electoral constituency, have been deserting the JD (U) after finding out that the men around them are still consuming liquor by spending more. The women are also angry, because young men are being sent to jails or they are chasing lawyers after dragged in cases.”

Will Kumar rollback the prohibition law or not is the talk of the town in Patna, and the political observers in Bihar argued that the chief minister is as stubborn as he had ever been. (…to be continued)

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