Amid mounting criticism from the Opposition over deaths caused by toxic liquor, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is now facing heat from within the ruling coalition, with ally BJP calling for a review of the state’s prohibition policy.
Bihar BJP president and Lok Sabha MP Sanjay Jaiswal made the suggestion during a press conference today. He also stated that sale of illicit liquor in the state cannot happen without the connivance of police.
“There is definitely a need to review this policy. It wouldn’t be right to link this incident only with prohibition. But in places where the administration’s role is suspicious, the Bihar government needs to think about that,” Mr Jaiswal said.
“The situation is scary. It is with the police administration’s help that liquor trade is taking place in the East Champaran region,” he added.
The remarks come against the backdrop of about 40 deaths over the past three days due to the consumption of poisonous liquor. The deaths have occured in Muzaffarpur, Gopalganj and Bettiah districts.
Chief Minister Kumar has vowed strict action against those responsible for the tragedy and has spoken of starting a campaign to spread awareness against alcohol consumption.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mr Kumar also said that “if you consume wrong things, you will pass away”. The remark came from strong criticism from main opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). Party leader and Leader of Opposition in Assembly Tejaswi Yadav accused the Chief Minister of threatening people instead of taking responsibility and acting against the administration and liquor mafia.
The prohibition policy that came into force in 2016 is Mr Kumar’s pet project, with him arguing that money spent on liquor could instead be spent on the family’s welfare. The policy initially brought him rich electoral dividends as he was able to carve out a support base of women cutting across caste lines.
With time, however, Bihar has witnessed rise of the liquor mafia due to gaps in implementation. The prohibition policy has also led to a rise in consumption of illicit countrymade liquor, leading to instances of toxic drinks causing deaths.
The BJP’s suggestion to Mr Kumar to review the prohibition policy also comes on the heels of the Bihar Chief Minister joining voices with Opposition parties in demanding a caste-based Census and a probe into the Pegasus controversy involving allegations that politicians, journalists and others were targets of the Israeli spyware.