Last week, during a debate on news channel Times Now, RJD leader Ashok Sinha defended a ridiculous provision in Bihar's liquor prohibition Act that threatens to book an entire family for the crime of a single person by saying:
"The fictitious situation you are creating (that of aged parents going to jail if the son is found hiding a liquor bottle at home) doesn't exist in Bihar. People of this state care about their parents."
The argument left some panelists stunned, and some others – obviously not Bihar residents - in splits.
"Those criticizing (the Act) are also presuming that the adult male member who is actually drinking and violating the law, will, when caught, be inhuman and cruel enough to share the accusation with his wife and adult children."
So according to the Chief Minister, it is the offender who will ensure that the Act won't be misused. Does he mean that the Act has been framed on the basic assumption that the offenders will willingly claim responsibility to ensure their family doesn't face consequences?
Only that it is far from believable and, obviously, might not play out in real life. Just today came a report of an entire village being fined Rs 5,000 because some residents violated the law. Clearly, the offenders haven't saved the innocent a hard time on humanitarian grounds.
Also, if Nitish rests so much faith in the residents, why threaten them with jail at all?
One of the major reasons for prohibiting liquor, as per Nitish, was that it was leading to a spurt in crimes in the state. People, under the influence of alcohol, were raping, killing and stealing. So much so that as per the Bihar government's recent (questionable) analysis, crime rate has miraculously come down thanks to the four-month-old ban.
By Nitish's own admission, men beat up their wives after consuming alcohol. But isn't it just naive to assume he will jump forward to claim the violation of law and save his wife from jail time?
Further, Nitish trains his guns at the critics themselves, asking them who should the police arrest if liquor is found at home and no one owns up to it?
"Should the police either return empty-handed or commit a further travesty of justice by arresting the wife, knowing fully-well that in almost all the cases, it is the husband who drinks?" Nitish writes.
The prompt answer is, at least they shouldn't arrest the entire family unless proven they are all guilty. Which is quite the opposite of what's in the Act presently - that every member is guilty unless proven otherwise.
"You cannot just criticize the law without suggesting the alternatives. It requires more than just playing to the galleries" writes Nitish.
But then even Nitish shouldn't have enforced a draconian law without having thought through the repercussions. The situation is already going out of hand: Bihar is witnessing an exodus of sorts with businessmen in the trade migrating overnight to other states. Seven businessmen from Surat are all facing seven years in jail because, 26 days into the ban, liquor was found in their hotel room.
Nitish ends his weak defense with this promise:
"But let me assure all, in Bihar, there will be no half measures. I will stand my ground."