PATNA: The Nitish Kumar government is on a high. It has so far granted 35,000 licences to liquor shops in 8,000 panchayats of Bihar this year and the state has more liquor shops than schools. This spirit was obvious at the Global Bihar Summit 2012 held last week, when London-based liquor baron Lord Karan Bilimoria ‘offered’ beer to Mahatma Gandhi at the session on Accelerating Industrial Growth in Bihar. “Had Mahatma Gandhi been here I would have offered him Cobra non-alcoholic beer as refreshment,” he said. It all started when Prof Nawal Kishore Chaudhary of the Department of Economics, Patna University, confronted Bilimoria on promoting liquor consumption in Bihar, a state associated with Mahatma Gandhi’s prohibition struggle.
Bilimoria’s retort was country liquor with its 65 per cent alcohol content is worse than his beer which contains just 5 per cent. It is just a refreshing drink, he said. Fortunately before the session could descend into a blasphemous farce, Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen, who was chairing the session, closed it hurriedly: “I do not know whether this is the right note to end the session but let us break for tea,” Sen said.
Lord Bilimoria is planning to set up a brewery in Bihta, 45 km from Patna. The Patna High Court recently stayed the construction work of another beer factory owned by Vijay Mallya in Bihta. “The ruling NDA becomes a laughing stock when one of its ally BJP is enforcing prohibition in Gujarat while in Bihar they are promoting liquor for industrialisation where three fourth of population are below povery line,” says CPI (ML) leader Kamlesh Sharma.
Incidentally, Bilimoria’s comment came just before the valedictory session of the three-day Global Summit, which was attended by none other but the grand son of the Mahatma, Gopal Krishna Gandhi. He lamented how the present leadership of the country was lacking the moral force that Jayaprakash Narayan commanded. He said the country was full of leaders obsessed with “jugar” for survival, paying little heed to truth and reality. They are unable to read the writing on the wall, said the former Governor of West Bengal.
Taking part in the Assembly debate over the Governor’s address, the Leader of the Opposition in Bihar Assembly, Abdul Bari Siddiqui, lashed out against the Global Summit by saying Patna was decorated like the Delhi Durbar at the time of the visit of King George V in 1911, when the capital of India was shifted from Calcutta. Responding to the beer baron’s remark on the Mahatma, Siddiqui said, “I was surprised to listen to what Karan Bilimoria said that ‘had Gandhiji been here, I would have offered him beer’. This is really shocking.” However, at this point Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi cut in to clarify that Bilimoria’s statement was not meant in the spirit it is being interpreted. Modi said Bilimoria had only jokingly said that he would have offered alcohol-free beer to Gandhiji. “There is no point agreeing or disagreeing with anyone on this count, yet this is what he said,” Modi added.
Lord Bilimoria, like Lord Meghnad Desai—another peer of the realm who has been involved in Nitish Kumar’s development projects—is a member of House of Lords of Britain.
But Bihar’s development story contradicts itself. As many as 35 prominent traders have been killed in the state in the past few months. Only 15 per cent of the Chief Minister’s Area Development Fund has been spent in the current financial year. The state government had last year replaced the MLA Local Area Development Fund with this latest scheme in the name of Chief Minister. “The lords abroad are impressed by Nitish Kumar,” says a JD(U) leader, “but people in Bihar know otherwise.”