Sample this statement of the father of one of 16 Gopalganj victims who died after consuming spurious liquor: Vijay Chouhan, who lost his 27-year-old son Shashikant in the tragedy, says: “Jab tak angrej sharab mil rahi thi, mera beta thik tha. Main use sharab peene se rok nahi paya lekin angreji ki quality to thik thi. Ab jab nahi mil raha tha tabhi to desi pee aaya aur mar gaya. Kahe ka aesa prohibition jahan police desi sharab ko kabhi rok nahi saki (So long as IMFL was available, my son was ok. I could not stop him from drinking but availability of IMFL ensured it was safe. Prohibition is of no use if the police fail to check flow of country liquor”.
Meet anyone in Nonia Toli and Harkhua and sense the resentment against the police and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for his zeal to implement prohibition without adequate preparation. These residents ask why the police could not stop the manufacture of illicit liquor in the small Khajurbani village with 20-odd offenders. The strong stench of mahua and molasses at Khajurbani provided enough proof of the place being a hub of illicit liquor.
Now that the Gopalganj administration and CM have given been begun to admit that this is a hooch tragedy officially, one can sense Nitish Kumar’s unease. The CM, while taking action against the police for dereliction of duty – he has suspended 25 policemen — still seems in denial. He says hooch tragedies take place in states which have not banned liquor. But privately, he knows Gopalganj is just beginning of his tough trial with his decision to ban liquor in the state from April.
The CM has to simultaneously address several issues: public resentment, the Mahadalit constituency, several members of which are engaged in country liquor trade, and Gopalganj, the home town of RJD chief Lalu Prasad, besides implementing the ban successfully before he goes to other states with Bihar liquor stories.
Gopalganj has happened too early and too soon. There have been some unconfirmed reports of liquor deaths from Nalanda, Khagaria and Patna but they were conveniently shown as deaths because of contaminated food. The Gopalganj police had attempted to play down the liquor cases but the numbers were too high to hide.
The biggest flaw of the Bihar prohibition policy is the inability of the police to check the sale, manufacture and consumption of country liquor. It is a sort of Mahadalit challenge for Nitish, who has initiated process of imposing a community fine for defying ban. The CM may say these are the pangs of a social transformation but the Gopalganj tragedy has been a blow to him.