The festive season is upon us with less of the festive ‘spirit’ in the Boondocks of Bihar. By now, every dhobi and his donkey knows that this blessed state is dry.
The Chief Minister in his role as Master Nanny has shut down the elite watering holes and deprived the well heeled of their single malts and bloody marys. There is nowhere you can wet your whistle.
The holiday makers and big spending tourists are staying away in droves. After the heat and dust and hassle of trudging around the Nalanda ruins or an overused hot water spring or some really dusty caves, the parched tongue calls for the satisfying and soothing sensation of a chilled beer. Then the realization hits the poor saps that even that simple, everyday, common beverage cannot be had for love or money.
The high spending tourist pilgrims from the West are now spending just two days in Bodh Gaya instead of a leisurely four or five, and are hurtling towards Somnath, a monk told me yesterday. No prizes for guessing why they are leaving Bodh Gaya high and dry! Bye bye Bihar, let’s get out fast, they say.
For all his bluster, for all his posturing, for all his outdated moralizing, one thing is chillingly clear: Nitish Kumar and his government have failed. He has failed the very women he pretends to care about. To hide his abysmal failure, he has tried to give liquor a bad name and hang us all.
Nitish Kumar and his weak administration could not and cannot implement the Domestic Violence Act. If he pursued this with even half the diligence of his so-called liquor raids, domestic violence would end in Bihar. Why didn’t he promulgate a Bihar Domestic Violence Act that gave men who beat their wives a jail term? If he can give policemen the power to search a private home for liquor, why couldn’t the policemen be given the same power to intervene in cases of domestic violence? Why couldn’t he follow that up with strict instructions for the police to take immediate action against all complaints of domestic violence? That would end domestic violence wouldn’t it? No need of prohibition!
Nitish Kumar was too weak to implement something as simple as the existing laws against drunken driving, or public drunken behaviour. If the local policemen were really vigilant, there would be no real problems of certain anti-social drunks ‘outraging’ the modesty of women or whatever other crimes these louts are supposed to perpetuate.
Nitish Kumar wasn’t strong enough to organise a massive police campaign against hooch in all the districts of Bihar. After all, he first said that it was hooch which was the ruin of the lives of the poor. A crackdown on the illicit stills and the kingpins would have really eliminated the problem to a great extent. But no, Nitish probably thought that this route was too cumbersome.
So, what do we hear this festive season? Rumours that cheap IMFL is being sold in clandestine places at the rate of scotch. I heard through the grapevine that cheap stuff which the discerning social drinker wouldn’t touch with a barge-pole was available in some shady place behind a police station! We hear stories of decent people having to throw away some of the rarest and most expensive of single malts, just because they couldn’t afford to lose face in case a police team was sent to ruffle through their closets. The newspapers tell us that over a thousand people have been arrested just for having some liquor in their homes, and that several of these are actually veterans of the armed forces. I came across a bizarre story (the worst of this that its probably true) that at some border crossings with Nepal, the security chaps on the Indian side use breathalyzers and arrest people coming over who have had a drink across the border in Nepal!
Now comes this new controversy about army and air-force cantonments being granted licences, so there are watering holes for the army, but not for the veterans!
What a sorry mess of affairs… all because a Chief Minister could not get his priorities right.
[By Frank Krishner. Frank Krishner is a journalist and social commentator.]