In first polls in dry Bihar, a war of words over prohibition amid huge seizure of alcohol
In the first Assembly election in dry Bihar, preventing use of alcohol to lure voters and influence polling was seen as a big challenge by the Election Commission. The crackdown in the run up to the first phase of polling has led to frequent seizures and arrests.
Since the model code came into force in the state with the announcement of the election, over 11 lakh litres of liquor has already been seized by the law enforcing agencies.
Add to this nearly 2100 kg ganja, 1.5 kg heroin, 11 kg opium, besides brown sugar, charas and other narcotics substances, and nearly Rs 20 crore cash sized so far to get a clear picture of the ‘heady cocktail’ and why prohibition has become such a big issue in Bihar polls this time.
According to figures of the Election Commission, over one-lakh litres of alcohol were seized in the state during the Lok Sabha elections, though much lower than the figures during 2014 LS polls when prohibition was not imposed in the state. Around 5.78 lakh litres of liquor were confiscated in Bihar during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, while the recoveries in 2019 was less than 20% of that.
Even during the 2015 assembly polls, when Bihar had close to 5,500 licensed liquor shops and the Election Commission had ordered video surveillance on all stocking points, huge recovery of liquor (5.20 lakh litres) was made in the state and Nitish Kumar had made a poll promise to enforce prohibition in his new term.
He did that barely a few months after in April 2016 after a unanimous decision of the Bihar Legislative Assembly and the Bihar Legislative Council, where members also took a pledge not to use liquor and discourage others from using it.
The opposition is now relentlessly attacking Nitish Kumar for the “farce in the name of prohibition due to rampant smuggling and growing use of drugs”, while the JD-U is extolling its virtues. Kumar has even gone on to say that the liquor mafia was after him because of prohibition.
On Tuesday, LJP chief Chirag Paswan who has unsparing in attacking the chief minister, called for reviewing prohibition.
“There is need to review prohibition in Bihar as everyone seems to know about rampant smuggling of liquor in the state except Nitish Kumar. After all, where is the money earned through black marketing going? Is it going to the CM? I will get it probed. If the CM says he is not aware of rampant smuggling under his administration’s nose, he may be the only person unaware of it,” said Chirag.
He had earlier accused the administration of being hand in glove with smugglers.
“Youth have been smugglers in the name of prohibition. Everyone is getting it as the government and the administration are facilitating it. Everyone in the government knows it,” Chirag said.
RJD’s Tejaswhi Prasad Yadav and Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala have also called for the need to review prohibition. Former MP Pappu Yadav says he would increase the tax on liquor and make it available in big hotels and clubs so that the money could be used for Bihar’s development.
Nitish Kumar, who has always taken pride in his decision of enforcing prohibition, has now started responding to opposition attacks with counter attacks. “the liquor mafia is conniving to get rid of me due to prohibition,” he said at his public meetings. The BJP has also been supporting him.
The election officials attribute huge seizures to greater vigilance. “Earlier there was a distinction between liquor and illicit liquor. Now, with Bihar officially a dry state, all liquor entering Bihar is illicit,” said additional chief electoral officer Sanjay Kumar Singh.