PATNA Just days after he landed in trouble for his disparaging remarks on prime minister Narendra Modi, Bihar excise minister Abdul Jalil Mastan has stoked another controversy by vowing to burn down trucks laden with alcoholic drinks, in order to crack down on the liquor mafia.
“We will not only burn down any seized consignment of illegal liquor , at a public place, but also the trucks carrying the contraband. This should be a lesson to mafia elements involved in smuggling liquor into Bihar after complete prohibition was imposed on the state last year”, Mastan told a Hindi news channel on Thursday
But the minister retracted his statement later in the day, claiming he was misquoted and that he had never talked of setting on fire trucks laden with illegal liquor.
It was, however, not immediately clear if the minister made an about face after realising he had gone too far in making the remark or that the retraction came after he was pulled up by senior functionaries of the ruling ‘grand alliance’ for provoking another, unnecessary controversy.
“I did not say the trucks or vehicles carrying illegal liquor will be burnt. I only said we will ensure that the vehicles used in such clandestine acts are not spared and remain under seizure for a long time. Humne kaha unko bakhsha nahin jayega (I only said those guilty of smuggling liquor into Bihar won’t be spared), “ he told HT.
This is the second time within a few days that Mastan has caused unease within the ruling alliance by his indiscreet remarks. He is still under fire from the BJP for inciting his supporters to beat the photograph of the PM with shoes and allegedly speaking of the PM in disparaging terms..
Video footage of the incident was prominently aired by TV news channels last week.
Even GA leaders admitted in private the minister should not have talked of burning trucks carrying illegal liquor as no such action was permissible under the law.
The opposition BJP was quick to lap up the minister’s controversial remark, citing it as corroboration of its claim that the government had failed to implement the new prohibition law, despite having ‘draconian’ provisions to discourage liquor sale and consumption.
“The minister’s statement is an example of frivolous talk. It shows that the government has failed to enforce prohibition in the state and is now indulging in rhetoric,” said Vinod Narayan Jha, state spokesperson of the BJP.
Mastan, on the other hand, insisted the government was keeping a close watch on illegal ferrying of liquor, especially in view of the forthcoming Holi festival during which the demand for alcoholic drinks goes up. He also trashed the BJP’s charge of laxity in enforcing the prohibition law.
“This is a baseless allegation. The police are keeping a close watch on liquor smuggling and have seized huge consignments of liquor in different parts of the state over past few months,” he said.