On the outskirts of Dharbhanga city, a group of poverty stricken women from extremely backward caste Musahars were trying to attract attention of chief minister Nitish Kumar, who had arrived to address a public meeting. But in vain.
Pushed by police and shouted down by local Janata Dal (U) activists, they helplessly saw Kumar's helicopters ascending and vanishing in the skies, before throwing dust on their hopes. The wailing women, who disbursed were to complain Kumar about the incidences of violence against them by their drunken male members of their family, who are spending hard earned money on alcohol, thanks to the JD (U) government policy to garner revenue for the cash starved coffers by allowing a liquor shop in every panchayat village. Though, the state's excise revenue has increased manifold, the policy has tell-tale effects on the lives of the people.
Significantly, some 40-kms away from the spot, where Kumar was addressing a modest public gathering, BJP candidate for Madhubani Hukum Dev Narayan Yadav is using liquor as an issue to sell his prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to voters. He mentions total prohibition in Gujarat and promises to enforce a similar prohibition in Bihar once Modi comes to power in Delhi.
"Gujart is prosperous despite prohibition. Can we allow our men to spend money on liquor to fill coffers of Nitish Kumar," he asks the crowd, who are mostly women from Lalmania and Birpur villages. To a thunderous applause, he says Modi has made Gujarat rich without selling liquor. A connection is made. Women, who till now had not even heard name of Modii or Gujarat find a reason to corner their husbands, who beat them after consuming liquor. Yadav, a sitting BJP MP is fighting a tough battle this time against the RJD's Abdul Bari Siddiqui, whose prospects are rated high after tie up with Congress.
Rukmani Devi, who was in the group of women trying to meet Kumar agrees that his government has done many better things for her community and village. But this opening a liquor shop in the heart of village has sent her life in a tailspin. "Every night, he comes drunk and beats me with whatever he finds around. With three children and another one expecting, it is difficult to make both ends meet," she says, reminding they had a happier life before this liquor shop came to their village.
According to government figures the excise revenue has jumped from a paltry Rs329 crore in 2005-06 to Rs2,765 crore in 2012-13. On latest official count Bihar has a huge network of 5,624 licensed liquor shops. But Fatmi says that for every licensed liquor shop there are least two unlicensed ones and it is more irony that fancy populist schemes like distribution of school uniform or cycles among girl students are funded by the revenue flowing in from the growing production and sale of liquor. The share of excise duty in Bihar's own tax revenue has risen to 17.65% in 2012-13 from 10.33% five years before.
In 2005, when Nitish Kumar became chief minister, the government started allotting more liquor shops and began increasing licence fees in a bid to boost revenue. But just three years later reports of crimes against women in rural Bihar started pouring in. According to a study conducted by Institute of Human Development, more than half of rural women were suffering domestic violence due to liquor. Therefore, Nitish Kumar may have brought development to Bihar in terms of improved roads and electricity, but his underestimation of women power and their abhorrence towards liquor may cost him votes amongst fairer sex across the state.