Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar may have let the cat out of the bag by declaring that he will impose prohibition on the state if he comes to power. His detractors are likely to say, however, that the promise, which has been implemented, modified and withdrawn in other states, is no more than a desperate attempt to boost his electoral position before the assembly polls. Had he been sure of its success, it is unlikely that he would have advocated a step that has been a recipe for disaster, starting with the appearance of the mafia in the US when it experimented with forced abstinence. Nearer Bihar, such attempts have failed in Haryana and Andhra Pradesh, among other states, and are being tested in the law courts over an official diktat in Kerala to enforce a ban in all bars and restaurants not in the five-star category.
The argument from bar owners is whether what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander, viz. whether the less affluent cannot imbibe in a middle-class ambience what the rich and the famous can in more salubrious joints. However, the main argument against prohibition has been that it is a remedy worse than the disease. Unless humanity is cured of the need for intoxication, whether for celebrations or quiet enjoyment or to dull the pain of sorrow, booze, to use a plebeian term for alcohol, will always be in demand. What is worse is, if officials forcibly withhold the beverage from consumers, the latter will obtain it from illegal sources, something that will only prove to be dangerous as illicit liquor can be poisonous.
The answer to alcohol addiction is not a counter-productive ban but a temperance movement informing people of its ill-effects, while allowing those who are mature and responsible to partake of it in moderation. Prohibition, however, is an invitation to bootleggers to start their nefarious business in collusion with gangsters and the corrupt in the law-enforcement agencies. Since Nitish Kumar is too experienced a politician not to be aware of these pitfalls, he should not make a promise that he may not be able to keep.