Smart Prohibition for Bihar – a suggestion

Nitish Kumar imposed prohibition on Bihar soon after taking power. To be fair to him, most Indian political parties have dabbled with this silly concept. Some like hypocritical megalomaniac Kejriwal promise one in Punjab but increase liquor outlets in states they rule!

But Bihar’s laws are draconian including horrendous provisions like punishing entire families for liquor found, sometimes entire villages. Fines and penalties are so high even rapes and murders are less taxing. Even in best ruled countries this only leads to corruption. In Indian context, even in best managed states it will open doors to horrible corruption. In Bihar it leads to mayhem.

The arguments in favor are silly. Productivity gains, health gains, “family peace”, increased spending on household expenses are all pushed as miracle gains from prohibition. All are based on dubious statistics. Productivity in Asian societies that share similar cultural DNA like India – Thailand, Malaysia etc are far higher and they are not killing each other or beating wives. We cannot compare ourselves to oil rich Arab states that will have foreigners lining up for its wealth even if they slap each visitor at the immigration. We are bench-marked with our near neighbours.

In fact, Bihar cannot even compare itself to richer, more developed states like Gujarat and say why not us. It is a laggard and it has to run faster, try harder to attract jobs, investments.

Unless country-wide prohibition is imposed, something that will render India a Talibanic pariah state that no sensible investor will visit, it also means Bihar ends up losing investment, jobs and reinforces image as lawless poor state.

Ironically, booze continues to flow to those that are most harmed by moonshine – the poor. And cops get richer. Many die horrible deaths or go blind due to methyl alcohol and other poisons. But a responsible, decent citizen or tourist or visitor cannot have a chill glass of beer after a tired day at work.

Even if the policemen and officials are not corrupt, they spend inordinate amount of time implementing these draconian laws under pain of being punished themselves by whimsical politicians. Time that is better spent bringing Bihar up to par with rest of the country and India comparable to rest of Asia.

This is the net effect of prohibition.

But as a CM, Nitish has to protect vulnerable women, even if they are not a vote bank. And it is true that many Indian working class men, particularly in countryside, spend bulk of their daily wages on booze and return home drunk to beat wives and deprive children of decent food and education.

Is there a mid-way?

Yes. That is where technology comes in. Why not Aadhar backed record for each liquor purchase?

Once implemented, this can track excessive liquor spend and let state as well as NGOs and others focus on where the trouble is. If someone spends too much on booze he can be asked to account for the income.

Ban orders can be imposed on any individual with police record of domestic violence or abusive behaviour after drinks. Family (wife) can seek ban orders with sufficient evidence. In fact a similar system exists in Singapore for casino gambling. We could not do with without individual identity system and now Aadhar enables that. That and technology that is cheaper and easier to acquire.

Drunk driving should be punished so severely that it should not be an option for anyone other than suicidal maniacs. Because this is murder.

You may say people may still drink moonshine. Yes. But moonshine becomes unprofitable when official market exists for liquor that attracts 90% of genuine responsible drinkers. They will shut down or go down in number.

You may say people can cheat (buy on others’ Aadhar card etc) but such people are also the ones that drink excessive or misbehave in all likelihood, so they can be trapped and punished for their actions.

Please do consider this.

 

 

 

 

 

The Bihar debacle

So many thousands of words have poured from the keyboards of so many experts and analysts on the recent Bihar elections and BJPs defeat. Here’s our analysis, presented in corporate style bullet points.

Wrong conclusions

  1. As in Delhi, voters have not rejected PM Narendra Modi. Knowing he can’t be their CM, they have chosen a popular local alternative.
  2. Regardless of rights and wrongs, the intolerance debate made very little difference to voter behavior – the two major groups Muslims and Yadavs that consolidated behind MGB and killed NDA prospects made up their minds for entirely different reasons. Nothing could have changed that.

Right lessons

  1. While voters still like Modi, they could not bring themselves to reject Nitish simply because the central government’s performance has not been overwhelmingly good. It had to be that not just because of the scale of expectations raised in 2014, but also because of the lack of suitable local alternative. This means the engine has to be revved up in Delhi.
  2. While voters may not have ‘punished’ BJP for raking up controversial issues, they have also not voted for BJP for those reasons. That’s the lesson.
  3. If BJP wants to consolidate Hindu voters across caste identities, the only unifying factor can be performance. Visible, identifiable and something that touches each citizen. Promise of performance could work in 2014, but in 2015 (and in 2019), it is results that will count.
  4. Margin of victory (in vote % terms) in May 2014 doesn’t leave BJP much room for margin of error. The clean sweep of northern states hides many weaknesses that Bihar exposes. Committed BJP voters can’t deliver the crown. The ‘floating’ or uncommitted ones need to be pursued.

Action points

  1. It pays to be humble. The message may remain same, but language of delivery needs calibration. This may or may not help to get Parliament going but will at least make it difficult for opponents to justify their own arrogance.
  2. BJP need not court minorities aggressively but senseless antagonism that delivers no tangible benefits to the majority (and doesn’t even rally them) has to stop. This is where Modi has to guide BJP to a Hindutva agenda that focuses on doing good (that few will oppose) instead of ‘teaching lesson’ (which many will).
  3. Develop local leadership. Time to plan Tier 2 for center and Tier 1 and Tier 2 leaders for various states with UP being high priority. It also supplies steady talent to the center, likes of Manohar Parikkar that BJP desperately needs.
  4. Assume Parliament is a write off, focus on thousands of things, small and big that can be done with executive actions. We have seen precious little.
  5. Reduce foreign travel. Sad but true, it is easy to electorally exploit that in a country like India. In any case, the big push has been done, now it is for the rest of MoE and team to take it forward.

Modi is a natural leader. We need more leadership from him. It could be as simple as that to make sure 2019 is a repeat of 2014.