Wednesday, August 10, 2016

How extreme prohibition is derailing Nitish’s development agenda in Bihar

by Ratnakar Tripathy

A leader derailed!
Not long ago, Nitish Kumar was seen as a leader likely to muster forces against the NDA and bring them on a common platform, often termed the ‘third front’. But that is not to be, it now seems! Far from outgrowing his present stature as a regional force and transforming into a national figure, Nitish has instead decided to run a ferociously rabid campaign against alcohol in the state of Bihar. This seems to have become a full time job for him. In fact his prohibition rhetoric is so strong it is reeking of sheer insanity. After having passed a series of laws against alcohol, Nitish reportedly plans to take it up as a national cause, claiming it as a cure all for the entire country. This is now increasingly looking like a case of a level-headed man flying at a tangent instead of pursuing the targets of good governance and development he has been known for. This only underlines the glaring fact that India is currently undergoing the worst leadership crisis since independence that we have seen – the rulers have ineptly left us at the mercy of vigilante goons, and the opposition has retreated into their jealously guarded satrapies, whether Mamata in Bengal, Naveen Patnaik in Odisha, Jayalalitha in Tamilnadu, or Akhilesh Yadav in UP, to mention a few names. As a Bihari, I feel betrayed, abandoned and angry. But as an Indian I feel it is tragic that we have lost a potentially great leader to a dubious cause which makes him sound like a puritanical purist of the worst kind. Not to forget of course that this is one more instance of a leader leaving the path of democracy and taking an authoritarian course by insisting on imposing hard rules for our private lives. These days our leaders all over the country are busy telling us what to eat and drink, what books to read, and what clothes to wear.  The Indian voter of course will not take much time dumping them one after the other, wiping out their political futures through the next round of elections.

The irony may be seen clearly in an article published recently with Nitish Kumar’s byline. The author quotes Gandhi’s moral authority to support his draconian measures and then tries to demonstrate how the state has the full right to impose a ban on intoxicants. He may well be right, let us grant for a moment. But is this why we choose our leaders – to restrict our diet, to censor our reading and to intrude into our personal lives in the manner of a bulldozer? It is not as if all of Bihar’s problems have already been solved and there is a dearth of items on the agenda. It is often claimed that Nitish’s prohibition is supported by the women voters of Bihar who face violence from their drunken fathers and husbands. But protection of women cannot be an excuse for the imposition of a regimen that is driving the administrators, authorities and the police crazy in Bihar these days – it seems policemen are refusing promotion lest they be suspended for slack  implementation of the prohibitory orders. It is indeed strange that the absurdity of the move is not even noticed by the completely blinkered CM.

In case my rant against Nitish sounds too extreme, sample the following measures being implemented in Bihar these days –
a.   "Consumption or possession of liquor by any member at home will now implicate all the adults of the family
b. Home owners will be required to inform the police if a tenant is found drinking.
c. The police is empowered to confiscate the property of the offender and make arrests without a warrant.
d. The district collector can impose collective fines on an entire village or a town and can extern a habitual drinker
e. the law presumes the person being prosecuted to be guilty and places the onus of proving his innocence on the accused."

In brief, very soon the citizens of Bihar will begin to doubt the sanity of the leader chosen by them and think of him as just another bad hangover rather than a man who led the state in its worst days. 

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