Saturday, June 13, 2009

AS LONG AS THERE IS 'ALOO', CORRUPT WILL BE LALOO!

For 15 years, Laloo Prasad Yadav ruled and ruined Bihar, enriching himself, some say, enormously in the process.. Then, as Railway Minister, he miraculously turned into a management guru overnight and taught students of Harvard and IIM(A) tricks that helped him turn Indian Railways around dramatically. Despite his irritating bluster, crude humour and bare understanding of a range of issues, a few sophisticated media barons actually went overboard and called him a superstar!

No wonder then that till reality hit on May 16, 2009, Laloo used to boast: "As long as there is aloo (potato) there will be Laloo". Forgotten were huge corruption scandals that had been haunting him for years, forgotten was the fact that he had almost single-handedly destroyed an already weakened Bihar, forgotten also was the basic understanding that Laloo was not only unjustifiably reaping the benefit that the Railways had got from an economy rampaging at 9%, but also the fact that had there been a more honest and professionally competent Railway Minister, the Railways would have done far better.

Why was Laloo protected and favourably projected by the media for so long? Would he have been so spoken of had he been the Man Friday of, say, Atal Bihar Vajpayee? For five long years, Laloo exploited the "soney ki chidiya", as he had once described the Railways, for personal gain, just as he had Bihar when he was Chief Minister. In fact he had become so bold, thanks to his proximity to the Congress "High Command" and the encouragement that the media were giving to him, that he had not only dismissed all previous allegations of corruption against him, including the famous fodder scam, but had gone to the extent of declaring boldly: "How can a person sitting in a high chair become a thief or do anything to harm the nation?"

Now that he is out in the cold after stabbing Sonia Gandhi in the back, his corrupt ways are beginning to become visible, again. What amazes one is not his blatant corruption and seemingly unlimited greed to which everyone had turned a blind eye, but the fact that more than 20 years and countless crores later, he remains a petty thief who will still "steal even an underwear" if he gets a chance.

On May 19, three days after the election results came out and when it was clear that he was not going to come back as Railway Minister, Laloo issued an order providing all former Railway Ministers free lifetime travel in First Class AC along with three companions and an attendant in Second AC Sleeper. The existing scheme which provided for such facility with one companion, was not enough for Laloo; he wanted three more guys travelling free with him till death. This petty loot would have gone undiscovered but for the honest rib of another former Railway Minister who was going to personally benefit too. Ram Naik, however, answered the call of his conscience and wrote to the new Railway Minister that the order "amounts to misuse of powers and promotes an unethical practice".

That is not all. Laloo not only got a railway line built to connect his native village to his wife's native village, he made money in the project by first getting some land allotted illegally to three of his close relatives who were falsely shown to be "landless" and then by getting the Railways to procure that land from them at a phenomenally high price! The scandal surfaced only after the elections, when his elder brother protested against the delay in receiving the compensation from the Railways. Laloo had earlier also been accused of giving away railway jobs in lieu of land, but nothing came of it.

We have been seeing a lot of sting operations done by the media to expose corruption across the spectrum. Schools have been exposed for asking for capitation fees, policemen have been shown asking for and taking money as have been many other petty government officials; lawyers have been exposed in a case that the media had got interested in pursuing; chemists have been caught selling Tamiflu over the counter. The list is long.

But, when it comes to politicians who really matter, and not small fry, have we ever got anything except the famous Tehelka sting in 2001 that showed the then BJP President receiving money? Not only have the media turned a blind eye to this daylight robbery and loot of the nation, guys like Prannoy Roy and Shekhar Gupta now openly talk of ATM/wet ministries in which ministers make pots of money, by right! If these guys are comfortable with and accept blatant banditry at the highest levels in the government, how can they go around stinging petty government officials and traders, and still claim the high moral ground of being watchdogs?

How can corruption be acceptable and kept under wraps at the top, and frowned upon and exposed at an octroi post? Laloo, for example, has according to many accounts, been so corrupt for so long and so openly that he could have been stung innumerable number of times by the media had they wanted. Why has that not happened? Is there some truth in the rumors that stings have been done, not only on Laloo but other senior ministers too, but have not seen the light of day? Any idea why that has happened, if it has? Does it have something to do with the belief that some media stars have also stashed money in Swiss banks? Is that why the media are not pursuing that case at all?

As far as Laloo is concerned, he has shown once again, if the above reports are correct, that there is no level to which he will not descend, to make even more money. Time and again he has displayed limitless greed coupled with a matching disdain for the welfare and betterment of the people of Bihar. Every time, he has managed to get away and emerge even more powerful. Don't be surprised if he succeeds this time too, even though at the moment the "aloo" is there but Laloo is out.

No matter what the outcome of the latest charges against him, one thing is clear: As long as there is aloo, corrupt will be Laloo!
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Readers may also read:
1. Sink sting operations that stink
2. Capital punishment, not gain, for the corrupt
3. Corrupt, colonial India faces volcano
4. Covering up the mother of all corruption scandals
5. It's time Biharis derailed Laloo for good
6. From Obama to Laloo: a rude reality check