Patna, Feb 14 : Hindustani Awam Morcha president Jitan Ram Manjhi''s comment that "a few drinks is like sanjivni (life-giver) for a working-class person" on Friday drew sharp reaction from the Nitish Kumar government that had brought in a stringent prohibition law in 2016.
The Congress, which was sharing power with Kumar''s Janata Dal (United) when the law was enacted, now seemed to be in agreement with Manjhi, its current ally.
Manjhi made this statement on Thursday at Purnea where he was questioned about a photograph showing a middle-aged man in an inebriated state at a rally addressed by the former chief minister.
The photograph has gone viral on social media.
"I do not know whether the man was drunk or not. But let us stop making a big fuss about liquor consumption. Daaru (alcohol) sometimes also serves as dawa (medicine). I have a first-hand experience. A concoction saved me when I was afflicted by cholera long back," he told reporters.
"A few drinks serve as sanjivni for a working-class person who returns home after a day of back-breaking labour," the HAM chief said.
People who take exception to drunken behaviour should realise that this happens because poor people often drink on an empty stomach which accentuates the intoxicating effects of liquor, Manjhi said.
It is not that the well-off - bureaucrats and politicians included - who drink are blessed with some intrinsic virtues that they stay sober after a few pegs, the HAM chief said.
"We must not expect our people to remain sober after failing to provide them with two square meals a day," he said.
Land Reforms Minister Ramnarayan Mandal, a BJP leader, lashed out at the HAM president accusing him of "seeking to justify his own habits" and claimed that "people are happy with the ban on alcohol and it is going to stay forever".
A former close aide of Kumar who turned his bitter critic after he was made to step down as chief minister in 2015 to facilitate the return of his mentor, Manjhi has been a strident critic of the prohibition law.
Kumar brought in the law in April, 2016 fulfilling an electoral promise he had made to the state''s women who had been complaining that their menfolk splurge their earnings on liquor, get drunk and cause nuisance at home.
Demanding that the Nitish Kumar government rationalise the prohibition law, AICC media panellist Prem Chandra Mishra said the state government should ponder why no other state is banning alcohol despite his repeated exhortations.
"Forget about the states ruled by the Congress, even BJP-ruled states have refused to toe the line," Mishra, who is also a member of the state Legislative Council, said.
The prohibition law in Bihar is often termed as draconian by critics as it seeks to penalise not just sale, but also consumption and being in possession of alcohol. Skeptics view it as a reaction to the criticism that the state had faced for having allowed, in the past, proliferation of liquor shops.
After the prohibition law came into effect, truckloads of liquor are seized frequently in the state, triggering suspicions that bootlegging was thriving with police and the administration in cahoots and the political establishment turning a blind eye.
On some occasions, even policemen have been caught selling seized liquor from police stations.