Human chain traditionally meant a line of people formed for the purposes of passing things quickly from one spot to another. Following natural disasters like earthquakes or floods, people formed a human chain to do rescue or relief work faster.
It also meant a line or circle of people joining hands in a protest or demonstration: In the face of insurmountable opposition from the governments or the instruments of the State (the army or the police), formation of human chains expressed solidarity and highlighted bigger causes.
In 1989, for example, a Baltic Chain was organized by the pro-independence groups of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania who demanded freedom from the Soviet Union. It was a protest demonstration on the 50th anniversary of the pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany that divided eastern Europe into their zones of influence and led to the occupation of the Baltic states (1940). In expression of solidarity, an estimated two million people had joined hands to form a human chain across the three Baltic states spanning 675.5 kilometers.
Closer home to Bihar in 2015, the Madhesis (the people of the plain regions) of Nepal formed a 1155-kilometer-long human chain to protest against the discriminatory provisions in the Nepalese constitution.
In some cases, the human chains have been symbolic also to draw the attention of the public to the looming problems.
In 1986, five million Americans joined in "Hands Across America" to raise awareness and funds to contribute towards mitigating the world hunger. On a smaller scale in 1983, 40 to 80 thousand people assembled in Berkshire, England to protest against what was believed to be the installation of American missiles in West Germany even though the British, the Germans and the USA were members of the NATO.
It was, however, an act of self-aggrandizement when Nitish Kumar, being the Chief Minister of Bihar or, in other words, as the head of the State machinery, sponsored a human chain on January 21st (at the expense of taxpayers’ funds) to announce to the world the so-called success of his prohibition policy.
The image of the lineup for 45 minutes by 20 million people along the 11,000-kilometer route was reportedly captured by a foreign and an Indian Space Research Organization satellite, four aircrafts, two helicopters and 40 drones. Who to convince?
Such self-projecting or self-congratulatory caravans are organized by the authoritarian communist regimes like those of North Korea or China. In Bihar, Lalu Yadav’s administration had once asked the school kids to stand on the two sides of the road to greet him when he had returned from a foreign trip.
The event orchestrated by Nitish Kumar on January 21st had naturally become suspect. His top officials had to assure the judges of the Patna High Court that the participation of school kids in the human chain wasn’t "mandatory". Earlier, Nitish administration had sent instructions to all schools to arrange for the participation of the students. It also ordered closure of the traffic. The High Court intervened when a civil society organization, Forum for Public Litigation, had raised objection. Obviously, in the light of the government’s deceit and lies, Bihar must have more of such watchdog organizations.
At the policy level or in the realm of its enforcement, Nitish’s total prohibition is an anachronism. In the present day and age, acceptable level of consumption of alcohol by qualified individuals at designated places and during defined time period couldn’t and shouldn’t be denied. Along with many arguments advanced for a restricted availability of alcohol, a dying hospitality industry will not be good for the economy of Bihar.
Secondly, underground manufacture or consumption of illicit liquor increases where there’s a blanket ban. It gives rise to black market and corruption. Even Gujarat is quoted as an example.
Ever since the Bihar liquor ban on April 5th, 2016, there have been many cases of manipulations, revengeful arrests, and underhand dealings. Friends from Bihar tell me it’s difficult but not impossible to find "bottles of your choice of the drink" for the right price.
With regard to the chain, a commentator rightly observed that the CM should have a real iron chain to tie up criminals, kidnappers, murderer-rapists and scammer-politicians in Bihar. If Nitish is so reform minded, he must start from his own party and coalition partners.
To conclude, it’s not to deny the significance of human chain in the context of Bihar. Nitish must have greater vision and he must share it with his people. He should lead a human chain for the unity and harmony among diverse sections of Bihar. He has so far been doing the social engineering of divide and rule. He should work for restoration of ethics and morality in politics, for the enhancement of health and education standards.
For some time, Nitish was approaching the center with a begging bowl beating the "special status" drum for Bihar. By doing so, he had diminished his stature. He should raise the banner for a greater united Bihar. As the Germans or the Vietnamese did, he should give a call for the re-unification of Bihar with Jharkhand.
The greatest injustice done to Bihar was its amputation in 2000. Let that be reversed by a human chain!
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.