Nitish Kumar finds new liquor ban partner in BJP; RJD aims for backward votes
In January 2017 with criticism mounting, Nitish Kumar proposed a human chain – touted to be the world’s largest – in support of the move. He found backing from an unexpected quarter: His erstwhile rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).india Updated: Apr 05, 2018 12:50 IST
As he toured the state during the frantic campaigning for the Bihar assembly election in 2015, Nitish Kumar promised at every rally that if the Grand Alliance, a coalition comprising his Janata Dal (United), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress, came to power, it will clamp a blanket liquor ban.
He swept to power and with the RJD by his side, announced complete prohibition on April 5, 2016.
In January 2017 with criticism mounting, Kumar proposed a human chain – touted to be the world’s largest – in support of the move. He found backing from an unexpected quarter: His erstwhile rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The developments around the human chain event underline the shifting political dynamics of prohibition. Bihar has seen political upheaval in these two years – in July, Kumar dumped the RJD and is now propped up by the BJP, a party he left in 2014. The BJP has gone from a critic to its supporter, while the RJD has moved from a reluctant supporter to a vocal critic.
Leaders in the RJD say their reluctance is well reasoned. The liquor ban affected a large section of retail sellers who are traditional RJD supporters. Now, the RJD is betting on growing resentment among weaker sections, especially extremely backward classes and Dalits, many of whom have landed in jail.
“The RJD hopes to get leeway by way of votes of weaker sections by portraying how the prohibition law has ruined livelihoods of poorer sections. In the recent by-election, the RJD raised this issue and it created an impact,” said political observer Manish Kumar.
But the CM is undeterred. Prohibition continues to be his main theme along with a drive against dowry and child marriages. “Its (prohibition’s) impact can be seen in rural areas,” said JD(U) general secretary Sanjay Jha.
But some in the JD (U) worry over a possible erosion of votes from communities from which many are jailed. “We fear nearly 10% votes have shifted ,” said a JD (U) leader .
Experts say Kumar’s previous campaigns had a flagship promise or scheme . Earlier it was free education and bicycles . This time prohibition is likely to be his weapon. “Prohibition continues to be popular with women but implementation should have been with some circumspection. I hope the policy doesn’t turn out to be a self goal,” said Shaibal Gupta, a social scientist.