Alcohol prohibition has been a work in progress for many decades now. It is a strong tool used by politicians to win over their electorate and a grand moral stand that earns them goodwill. But does it work as a policy? The answer to that question is a big and loud no. It has been used in Gujarat, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and, most recently, Bihar.
Gujarat has had a policy of alcohol prohibition even before it bifurcated from Bombay State. The policy continues even today, but practically has no impact. While officially there is a total ban in place, bootleggers are said to be just one phone call away and alcohol is said to arrive faster than pizza.
The north-eastern state tried to implement a total liquor ban for almost two decades. In 2014, the state government lifted the ban. Falling tax revenues and the spread of bootleggers was not something the state could ignore.
Andhra Pradesh and Haryana
Governments in both these states tried to implement prohibition because it was an electoral promise. Various groups in Andhra Pradesh, mostly led by women, demanded a total ban. In 1992, actor-turned-politician NT Rama Rao ordered prohibition. But to keep the state dry was quite a task. Spurious liquor leaked from across the border and the ban hit the state even financially. In 1997, Chandrababu Naidu, who was chief minister at the time, revoked the ban.
The Haryana Vikas party did something similar in 1996. Bansi Lal won the election promising a complete ban on liquor in the state. He won the election and implemented it right away. But in the 1998 general election, his party lost miserably. Bansi Lal's party lost the people's trust and the ban had to be revoked.
Nitish Kumar is the latest politician on the block to experiment with prohibition. Liquor has been banned in Bihar to please Nitish Kumar's biggest supporters, the women voters of Bihar. And so far, it is working.
The announcement that came on April 5, 2016 called for a complete ban on alcohol sale and consumption in the state.
There was a minor glitch when the Patna High Court struck down the law. But the ban in Bihar got a new lease of life with the Supreme Court putting a stay on the high court order.
The state government is clear that a total ban on alcohol in the state has to be followed. Those who violate it will have to face heavy penalties. But Bihar is still in its initial stages of the journey. If Nitish Kumar succeeds, it will be a first.