In a major setback to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the Patna High Court has struck down the notification on prohibition for being ultra vires the Constitution. But Kumar is no mood to relent. He plans to replace it with a more draconian notification. However, he is much too seasoned a politician to be unaware of every likelihood of it being struck down as well.
The why did he persist with a notification bound to be struck down by a court? One of the plausible explanations for the Chief Minister veering into the theatre of absurd is his attempt to make prohibition an emotive issue so as to brand himself a champion of a cause dear to women. It may be added here that women almost single handedly voted Kumar back to power in the state polls this year. If women can vote for him in a state, why can they not form a vote bank in another state? This is a flawed proposition but ambition is often blinding. Besides, he has had enough of Bihar and wants to arrive in Delhi. Modi's advent in Delhi continues to be a source of inspiration. Nitish now wants to cultivate a vote bank or a political constituency independent of caste and community across the country. Unlike Yadavas, his own caste men Kurmis are only 4.3 % of the state population and can't therefore dictate the state politics. On the other hand, a vote bank of Yadavas (14% of state population) and Muslims has made Lalu Yadav more powerful than a Chief Minister despite a conviction in fodder scam and a sullied image in the eyes of a common man. The Rashtriya Janata Dal arm-twisted Kumar into facilitating bail of Mohd Shahabuddin, controversial RJD leader and former MP from Siwan. Ironically, it was Nitish Kumar who had fast-tracked the cases against the Siwan MP during his previous NDA regime when conviction and consequent sentences barred Mohd Shahabuddin from contesting the polls. Aware of changed political equation in the state now, Md Shahabuddin stung Nitish Kumar calling him a leader of circumstances besides refusing to accept him as leader. Nitish Kumar squirmed and tried to get even with him in Supreme Court hearing the bail pleas against former MP of Siwan. Although the Supreme Court sent Shahabuddin to jail, it made extremely caustic remarks against selective amnesia of Nitish Kumar. Patna High Court also struck down the prohibition law. Instead of tempering his approach, Nitish braved it out with a much more draconian law. He may lose the prohibition law in the court but wants to win the war of perception.
Nand Kishore Yadav, senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader and leader of opposition in Bihar assembly told this writer over phone, “The prohibition is a bee in his bonnet. I told him during the debate in the state assembly that we support the cause but it is not a law and order problem that you can solve with a law. It is a social evil instead and therefore needs a sustained socio-cultural holistic approach. But that is a long shot. It is also a tough job. In a tearing hurry, Nitish wants an easy way, short cut. On the top of it, the court may strike down the law.”
When asked if Nitish is feigning ignorance of the judiciary, BJP leader said, “He appears to believe that right to legislate is invested with the legislature alone. Once it receives the consent of the Governor, the Bill is a law.” So far so good. Right to drink is not a fundamental right, enshrined in the Constitution. At the same time, punishment can't be disproportionate to a crime committed. Whatever the merit of the case, a chief minister can't play cat-and-mouse game with the judiciary for long and risks otherwise being hauled up after a while for contempt of court.
The BJP leader suggested that Nitish Kumar won't mind being pulled up for the contempt of the court. “He may evoke sympathy to play a tragedy Hero,” suggested Yadav. But the plot doesn't seem to be working to Nitish plot. In desperation, he exaggerated the role of the prohibition giving a Chinese spin a couple of days ago, “prohibition can be the best tool to counter China,”.
Moreover, Nitish Kumar's reading of the social scene is flawed. First, everyone who drinks doesn't necessarily beat his wife. Besides, the phenomenon is confined mainly to the lower middle class, which means that Kumar's purported base will be a limited one.