BJP leader surrenders after crushing NDA’s prospect along with nine school-children

The accident comes as a embarrassment to Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, who had imposed prohibition in Bihar in 2016. Not only that, he had visited several states to campaign for total ban on liquor

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Soroor Ahmed

Whether the general secretary of Bihar BJP’s Muzaffarpur unit, Manoj Baitha, was drunk or power-drunk one can never know, but the accident he caused when he was driving an SUV on February 24, which led to the death of nine school children and injured a dozen others, has sparked off a fresh controversy over prohibition––and that too when Jitan Ram Manjhi led Hindustani Awam Morcha quit the NDA on February 28.

Anyway, the role played by powers that be in shielding Baitha was there for all to see. It took more than 24 hours for the police to lodge an FIR. The BJP leader, who had sustained injuries, was allowed to escape by the police to the neighbouring town, Sitamarhi, where he was treated for a day in a private nursing home of one Dr Varun. He could never be arrested but surrendered on February 28 morning, about 90 hours after the tragedy.

The family members of the victims and eye-witnesses alleged that Baitha was drunk. As the vehicle he was reportedly driving had a plate displaying that it belonged to the BJP general secretary, the administration swung into action to protect him.

The leader of opposition in Bihar Assembly Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, who visited the spot a day later, alleged that the state government machinery had not been arresting Baitha as it wanted him to remove all traces of being drunk while driving.

Thus if the mishap landed the BJP in trouble any revelation that Baitha was in an inebriated state would come as another embarrassment to the chief minister Nitish Kumar, who had on April 6, 2016, imposed total prohibition in Bihar. Not only that, he had visited several states to campaign for total ban on liquor.

If the mishap landed the BJP in trouble, any revelation that Baitha was in inebriated state would come as another big embarrassment for the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who had on April 6, 2016 imposed total prohibition in Bihar. Not only that, he had visited several states to campaign for total ban on liquor.

This is not the first time that NDA leaders have let down Bihar chief minister. First the news appeared that excise department had seized 168 bottles of liquor from the house of the block JD(U) president of Harnaut––Nitish’s native place.

Then on October 31, 2017, a video showing Nitish Kumar honouring a liquor trader accused of hooch tragedy of 2012 went viral.  Rakesh Singh was actually the block president of Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) and was on bail in case related to hooch tragedy in Ara of December 2012 in which 29 people had died.

Rakesh’s name for honour was recommended by the Bhojpur district president of JD(U) as he had not taken dowry on the marriage of his son.

After prohibition Nitish has turned his concentration on social evils like child marriages and dowry. Any selfie with such a person was bound to expose the claim of being a social reformer.

It is not that prohibition has no impact in Bihar. People are no more drinking and creating ugly scenes on the streets, especially after the victory in cricket matches, marriage parties, festivals etc. This phenomenon had been quite rampant between July 1, 2007, when the Nitish government introduced a new excise policy to give a boost to the revenue and April 6, 2016, when it took a complete U-turn.

Yet it would be absurd to claim that there is total prohibition in Bihar. The big and powerful are getting liquor regularly––at three to four times higher price.

But those with deep pockets do not mind paying as one of them narrated as to how it is not costing him much. “In the past I used to drink in groups and had to often bear the burden. Now I drink alone.”

In fact Nitish was compelled by women self-help groups to enforce prohibition. Though the ban led to big fall in state’s revenue Nitish thought that his party would be able to politically en cash it in the next election. But now he is caught in a bind. He has now joined hands with the BJP, which initially opposed prohibition. His government’s revenue suffered a loss yet liquor is illegally available in the market.

No doubt the police is carrying out crackdowns, but in most cases it is the weak and powerless who are in jails.

An overwhelming number of those who have been arrested and jailed after prohibition are from extremely backward castes and Mahadalits––the two sections on whom Nitish strongly relied.

Political pundits are of the view that apart from other factors, prohibition is one reason behind the general indifference of Mahadalits towards Nitish Kumar.

Not only Pasis, the caste of toddy-sellers, but many others were involved in the liquor business.

It is true initially that the state government allotted some milk booths to many of those engaged in liquor business. But that was too little. Demonetization and shoddy implementation of GST led to the slowdown in economy and threw a large number of people unemployed.

As if that was not enough the new NDA government started crackdown on sand traders.

The road tragedy which led to the death of nine school kids belonging to the poor section of the society has come at the worst of time. With by elections to three seats due on March 11 the general apathy of those section of voters who were generally inclined towards the NDA may cost the ruling combination dearly.

The irony is that Baitha himself comes from a Mahadalit caste.

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