Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced a ban on liquor in his state Bihar soon after coming to power for the third term. The move, which will come into effect from the next fiscal, has surprised quite a few quarters.
Is banning liquor a solution to the problem? Moreover, how will Bihar overcome the huge financial loss that the decision will lead to?
The populist route to 2019?
This decision by the chief minister, who scripted a much satisfying victory over Prime Minister Narendra Modi by allying with old foe Lalu Prasad and the Congress earlier this month, is a purely populist one.
Has Nitish Kumar now decided to take that route to emerge as a popular leader by the time we approach the 2019 Lok Sabha election?
That is a theoretical question for time to answer but judging it from the past perspective, it signifies a qualitative decline in Nitish's opening calls as an administrator.
In 2005, Nitish's call was on law & order situation
In 2005, when Nitish released the JDU-BJP manifesto for the second election that was held that year, he said his first priority would be restoring the rule of law within three months of winning power.
After 15 years of rule by Lalu's RJD, the new chief minister knew very well that ‘rule of law' was what Bihar needed the most if it was to make progress.
The new regime worked seriously to change the lawlessness that prevailed in Bihar (the contributions of IPS officer Abhayanand and IAS officer Afzal Amanullah deserve a mention here) and Bihar's law and order scenario saw a dramatic turnaround in the days to come.
In 2010, Nitish spoke about ‘New Bihar'
Ahead of the 2010 Assembly polls, Nitish Kumar's focus was on a ‘New Bihar'. He had said a new Bihari identity had emerged between 2005 and 2010, which was "above caste sentiment".
Nitish Kumar's optimism was vindicated as the JDU-BJP alliance won that year's election too while Lalu and the rest were buried. Bihar, that year, definitely chose a man who steered the state back to the course of hope and revival.
The vow to restore the law and order situation in 2005 and the hope on a new sense above Bihar's eternal caste sentiment were two huge services that Nitish Kumar had offered to the people of his state.
In 2015, focus on banning liquor
In 2015, imposing a ban on liquor (this is truly a season of bans) is Nitish's new offer to the state and it is a mediocre one.
Banning liquor will only worsen the situation, both economically and socially in Bihar and Nitish might have to regret it later, as did a chief minister of Mizoram in the recent past.
Will liquor ban go Nitish's futile land reform way?
The decision to ban liquor, on the contrary, reminds one of Nitish Kumar's futile initiative of land reforms in Bihar. The chief minister had commissioned the engineer of neighbouring West Bengal's historic ‘Operation Barga', D Bandyopadhyay, to suggest similar measures for his state.
Nitish Kumar wanted to undo the feudal structure in Bihar but somehow, the report that was submitted by Bandyopadhyay quite quickly, got leaked even while the government was going through it.
The result was disastrous for Nitish Kumar as his party could win just two seats in the 18 Assembly bypolls held in 2009, ahead of the crucial 2010 Assembly poll.
Some of Nitish Kumar's own government and party colleagues had also disapproved the land reform report and with months to go before the crucial 2010 Assembly polls, Nitish Kumar just let the idea go as it was a perfect recipe for a disaster in Bihar's complex socio-economic milieu.
The call on liquor could also pose a similar challenge to the man, although it has come just after the polls and not before.