Chief minister Nitish Kumar on Thursday vowed to introduce 'total prohibition' in Bihar, should he be returned to power in November after the assembly elections.
The assurance came at a state -level workshop for women, christened 'Gram Varta', in response to a spontaneous demand from women self help groups (SHGs).
Bihar has seen umpteen protests by women's groups all over ever since the excise ministry went into an overdrive, starting 2007, and issuing licences for marketing liquor across the state to shore up internal revenue in a fund-starved state.
It paid dividends. For, ever since the Nitish- led government came to power in 2005, the revenue collection of the excise department has registered more than 10-fold jump, from a paltry Rs 319 crore in 2005-06 to Rs 3,250 crore in 2014-15.
That helped in bringing big business to the state, with groups like Kingfisher, Coors, Cobra Beer, pushed by the likes of Lord Karan Billimoria and many companies setting up distilleries on the back of stats, which spoke of Bihar as the biggest beer guzzling state.
However, there has been huge adverse reaction among women, for whom Kumar created 50% reservation in panchayats and local bodies.
In several hamlets of Vaishali, Rohtas and Kaimur districts among others, women SHGs took up cudgels against offenders as law and order issues, often targeting women, grew around the liquor vends.
The SHGs' plea at Kumar's meeting on Thursday came soon after he had completed his address at the SK Memorial Hall here. The SHGs demanded that the policy of prohibition be ingrained in state-sponsored Vision Document 2025, with a 10-year action plan for implementing it.
The New Excise Policy 2007 was what had given fillip to liquor consumption going apace in Bihar, what with an emphasis on revenue resource enhancement through adoption of new initiatives, including settlement of all types of retail excise shops through lottery - a first of its kind initiative.
Ironically, the revenue generated by the excise department helped Kumar to roll out the most ambitious and pathbreaking bicycle scheme for girl students and finance the SHG model of grassroots development to empower women.
Kumar's plan, as he emphasised, is to form 10 lakh SHGs, enrolling 1.5 crore members to actively and politically engage 6 crore family members.
Such a strategy of emphasis on pro- women schemes had helped Kumar mop up women votes in 2010 when booths across Bihar saw massive queuing up of women in his support.
The problem now is: If Kumar fails to match up to SHGs' expectations, the same women could desert him. Hence, the promise.
Kumar himself seemed to realise the power of women when he hinted that the SHGs "could be the vehicle to spread any message - social or political - all over in the shortest time across the state".
"I am experimenting with low cost medium for reaching people. This is the most potent and cost effective tool to spread awareness as against high cost blitzkrieg by others," he said.
He was hinting at BJP's Bihar minder Ananth Kumar's promise the other day to engage 160 raths for political campaign, leading up to the critical assembly elections in September-October.