Patna: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was left red-faced Tuesday when half a dozen empty liquor bottles were recovered from the heavily guarded and restricted state assembly premises, despite his government’s push to keep Bihar alcohol-free.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) created a ruckus in the assembly, with party chief and Leader of the Opposition Tejashwi Yadav demanding the chief minister’s resignation. State minister Vijay Kumar Chaudhary of the Janata Dal (United) tried to pacify the House by offering an immediate probe into the incident.
The incident comes just days after Nitish announced a crackdown on the consumption and trade of liquor, which has been banned in Bihar since 2016. The chief minister is currently in the line of fire of Opposition parties for allowing police personnel to raid wedding ceremonies in search of liquor.
Speaking to ThePrint, Tejashwi said, “How can Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expect to keep all Bihar liquor-free when he can’t stop the flow of liquor inside the assembly premises, hardly 50 metres from his office?”
After Nitish arrived at the House, he obtained the speaker’s permission to launch a probe, and tightened security at the assembly.
Barbs in the assembly
Calling for the chief minister’s resignation in the assembly, Tejashwi said, “Nitish Kumar is both chief minister and home minister. He is responsible for the presence of liquor bottles inside the assembly.
“We have been saying that there is home delivery of liquor despite the ban, and around 65 people have died due to consumption of spurious liquor. But this is too much.”
However, it was Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha who put both the government and the Opposition on the back foot, recollecting his own opposition to part of the Bihar Prohibition Bill when it was passed in 2016. He was then part of the Opposition as a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA, while the RJD was part of the government with the JD(U).
Sinha said, “In 2016, when the Bihar Prohibition Bill was being passed, I was in the Opposition and you (Tejashwi) were on the treasury bench. I remember that I had opposed the section of the Bill which allows the prosecution and arrest of a person on the basis of recovery of an empty liquor bottle.”
He added that he had “asked MLAs what they would do if an adversary planted an empty bottle in their houses or premises”.
“If both of you had heard me then, we would not be having this discussion,” he said.
Nitish had arrived at the House by this point. He said, “The incident is shameful. If you (the speaker) allow it, I will have the matter investigated immediately. This is not a small incident. We will not spare the persons who brought liquor into the assembly campus.”
With the speaker’s consent, Nitish then initiated a probe, summoned the chief secretary and the director general of police to his office, and had security measures tightened. By the evening, cars had been shifted away from the premises.
Nitish has of late been under fire from the Opposition RJD and the Congress, who are demanding that the prohibition law be scrapped.
On 29 November, former chief minister Rabri Devi led a protest outside the state Legislative Council against police entering a bride’s room in search of liquor without a search warrant. She alleged that Nitish had insulted the women of Bihar.
According to a BJP MLA, at a meeting of legislators of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Tuesday, Nitish had all the MLAs stand to express support for the liquor ban. He chastised BJP MLA Nikki Hembram for suggesting that the collection of Mahua flowers (used to make country liquor) by tribals be legalised.
Nitish’s allies are alarmed by his “strong-arm” tactics, the MLA added. “There is massive resentment among the middle class about the manner in which police are being allowed to enter the bride’s room. The resentment against Nitish Kumar is growing, and we may also have to face the music in the next polls,” said the MLA.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)