Monday, September 1, 2008

FROM OBAMA TO LALOO: A RUDE REALITY CHECK



Laloo Yadav did not take more than a couple of days to give Indians a rude reality check. Obama may have inspired millions of Americans on August 28 with his promise of a refreshing change they can believe in, but Laloo quickly reminded us here in India that it is still the Laloos who continue to call the shots.

Laloo’s value system remains untouched no matter what the tragedy, no matter how much the human suffering, no matter that the people of Bihar in this hour of tragedy have no time or thought for the kind of politics that Laloo and his likes practice, the kind that has literally destroyed the state of Bihar economically and socially and ‘transformed’ it into one of the poorest states of India.

By now the whole world knows that Bihar has been hit by the worst floods in 50 years. The Prime Minister has called it a national tragedy. 800 villages lie submerged, more than 675 people have died while at least three million have been displaced. 100,000 hectares of farm land have been destroyed and more than 20 million people in 9235 villages in 20 districts have been affected by floods.

In any country in the world, indeed in any other state within India, such a calamity would have moved even the most hardened and political of politicians to shed their political cloaks and work together as humans and leaders of humans to reduce the suffering of the people who vote to get them to power. Such solidarity and humaneness was on display when an earthquake hit Gujarat in 2002 and when Tamil Nadu was hit by a tsunami in 2004.

But, most of Bihar’s politicians are made of a metal that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. In fact, the same can be said about most of the many Biharis who have found riches and glory in other parts of India and the world. While they are all flourishing, the state to which they belong is regressing into the nineteenth century, as it were. Many of the unfortunate people who stay in Bihar continue to lead a wretched life in a rigidly feudal society that refuses to change and empower those who have been at the bottom of the social ladder forever.

The monumental human tragedy that the floods have caused cannot be blamed on any politician. Yet those in the opposition, in traditional style, remain largely blind to the suffering of fellow Biharis. For them, this calamity is little more than an opportunity to blame the state government led by Nitish Kumar who manifestly belongs to the extinct species of honest Bihari politicians. Union Steel Minister Ram Vilas Paswan has, in fact, blamed the government directly for the floods, as have other sundry leaders, all looking for the electoral gain that can be extracted from the angry waters of Kosi.

As always, no one can beat Laloo Yadav in this sordid game. As per footage shown on CNN-IBN on August 31, 2008, Laloo Yadav, on a tour of Bihar, was seen asking people whether the government was doing anything. He knew only too well the answer that he would get considering the crisp currency notes that he was shown distributing, for the benefit of the cameras as much as the fortunate few who got them. Having got the purchased answer he wanted, he told the TV cameras that his party would organise relief work in addition to whatever the government was doing or not doing.

It is worth reminding readers briefly about the previous record of Laloo in providing relief to the suffering citizens of Bihar. Anirudh Prasad, his brother-in-law is an accused in the multi-crore flood relief scam of 2004 in which crores of rupees meant for providing flood relief were allegedly siphoned by him in collusion with the then District Magistrate of Patna. The latter, an IAS officer, had, not surprisingly, initially conned almost the whole world, getting even Time magazine to name him as one of Asia’s heroes for this very ‘work’! Also, who does not know about Laloo’s alleged involvement in the famous fodder scam?

But what Laloo was shown doing on CNN-IBN on August 31, 2008, was unbelievable by even his own standards. Sitting regally in his SUV, he took a one year old infant into his arms and gave him a Rs500 note, making sure to announce that loudly to the camera, so that no one was in any doubt about the amount. Then, believe it, he spoke to that hapless infant, telling him that he was Laloo Prasad Yadav and asking him to say “zindabad” to him!

In the middle of colossal human suffering, the one thing that Laloo remembered was to extract full electoral value for the currency notes he distributed, sparing not even a bewildered infant who had no clue that he was being bought before he could even speak.

This seemingly insignificant incident underlines how far Bihar has gone on the road to destroying real democracy, human dignity and leadership of character. The worst part is that many Biharis readily justify this ‘everything is for sale’ approach in public life that most others find abhorrent and unacceptable.

You can be sure that most of the money and material that is pouring into Bihar for those who have been devastated by the floods will actually wind up further enriching proudly corrupt bureaucrats and politicians, who must already be licking their lips in anticipation. Even as millions of fellow Biharis struggle to pick up shattered pieces of their devastated lives.

No wonder Bihar is where it is, without any hope of change Biharis can believe in. Thank you for that hard reality check Laloo ji.