I feel sorry for our good friend, Lalu Prasad Yadav. I don’t think we are going to see him again for a long time, as he tends to his wife’s cows in Patna. The voters of Bihar have dumped him – and his wife – for good, and the man is not going to raise his head anytime soon, may be not even in the next poll.
Unfortunately, Lalu still does not realise what hit him – he believes that the results were mysterious – and he is going to sit down with his chums to find out who or what did him in. Actually, nobody did him in, just as nobody did Rahul Gandhi in. The political express ran over them and flattened them on the spot.
Let us deal with Lalu first. He was doing very well for himself as long as he stuck to his benighted state. But the media from Delhi, always on the look-out for good copy, discovered him and made him into a hero. Lalu was, pure and simple, a media creation – a rustic who couldn’t speak straight, a man who couldn’t pronounce a single word correctly, a man, who, like Bob Hope, told so many jokes in a lingo of his own, that he didn’t realise he had become a joke himself. Thus Bob Hope became Hardy (of Laurel and Hardy) and the voters turned against him, for they considered it demeaning that a joker should represent them and try to run their state.
The media, particularly the Delhi TV media, became so patronising that Lalu didn’t even realise they were making fun of him, which means they were making fun of Bihar and Biharis. I once sat with him in a Delhi TV studio, when Lalu let off a string of jokes which sent the girls into peals of laughter. I could see that they had nothing but contempt for a man who had come all the way from Bihar to make them laugh, which is not what serious politicians are supposed to do. In the end, he was left alone in the studio looking for an audience, while they were making fun of him behind his back.
Lalu was not a serious man; he was not serious about any thing otherwise he would not have asked his wife to take his place. And people are looking for serious men to lead them, which is why they preferred Nitish Kumar and Sushil Kumar Modi, whom you rarely see cracking jokes, or even smiling. Politics is, after all, a serious business. You carry the fate of millions of your people – people who have taken trouble to vote for you – in your palms, and they look up to you with hope and expectations. After all, this is what you promised them when you asked them for their vote.
Biharis are perhaps the poorest people in India, so poor that in some villages women do not stir out of their homes because they have nothing respectable to wear. You have to treat them with respect and dignity for, without food, without clothes, and often without hope, that is all they have. If you cannot give them anything, at least give them hope, but Lalu the joker only gave them jokes.
Nitish and Sushil Kumar Modi swept the polls because they gave them hope, just as Barack Obama did in the United States to people battered by recession and unemployment. And hope is something very precious, like a candle in the dark. Nitish and Sushil not only gave their people hope but actually showed that things can improve, if only you are serious and mean business. They improved roads, police services, law and order, dispensaries and schools, the kind of things you take for granted elsewhere in the country and which Lalu could never give his people.
The common man is not asking for five-star hotels and palatial theatres, nor does he want flashy government offices and underground trains. All he wants – and expects the government to do for him – are tolerably good schools, efficient police, helpful government officials, and inexpensive dispensaries where he and his family can be attended to at reasonable cost. If a government cannot deliver these basic things, and which Lalu’s government never did, what is he good for? And remember that Lalu was at the helm for nearly 15 years.
The Sushil Kumar – Nitish Government went about its job systematically after assuming power in 2005. Roads were high on its list but initially it was difficult to get good contractors to do the work. There were no reliable contractors in Bihar and contractor from outside the state had no interest because of fear of extortion. Lalu and his relatives had corrupted the whole system, which had to be de-corrupted. This was not easy, but the government succeeded in persuading contractors from Mumbai and Delhi to put in bids for roads and other jobs.
When the Biharis realised that the new government meant business, their mood changed. They saw roads being repaired, police stations functioning, schools being repaired and staffed with teachers, and dispensaries actually supplying medicines, something that had not happened under Lalu & Co. Under Lalu, Patna was not so much a city as a gangsters’ den. Women could not stir out alone, even if all they wanted to do was to buy vegetables. Children couldn’t go to schools, and if you had a patient in the family, you couldn’t take him to hospital, as few hospitals functioned properly.
Neither Rahul Gandhi nor his mother realised that things were changing. Their election speeches were full of nonsense. They said nothing was functioning properly and the state had gone to the dogs, while the common man could see that things were improving on the ground. The voters laughed at the antics of the duo from Delhi and when they cast their votes, they sent them packing.
There were, of course, the usual pundits from Delhi, full of their ancient theories about caste and “jat” and “pat”, which they had been repeating poll after poll, without realising that the voter had changed, and caste was now a minor factor in his calculations. The pundits from Jawaharlal Nehru University refused to see that a social revolution was taking place in Bihar, a revolution in which old elements like caste had less and less space. Bihar had gone or was going beyond simplistic caste equations, as a result of the impact of development.
These pundits who flit from TV studio to TV studio in Delhi, like crows in summer, dropping the same old words of wisdom, were totally unaware of the fact that India had changed or was changing, and so could Bihar. Women, who were now manning the panchayats, were changing the very society that had kept them down all these years. So it was not only roads and schools that was changing Bihar, but also women who later flocked to the polls in large volumes, and threw Lalu & Co into the dustbin of history.
TV was also a big factor. The people of Bihar could see on their screens the contours of a rapidly changing India. It was not only Mumbai, now a glittering jewel on the Arabian sea, but nearly every other city in the country, from Ahmedabad to New Delhi. If the country is changing, why not Bihar? What was happening was actually a revolt of the masses, who had been kept down by Lalu & Co, but who were now straining themselves for release. The Nitish-Sushil Kumar government was seen as a liberator, not just a government that built roads and dispensed medicines, but actually liberated the state from the chains that Lalu & Co had tightened around it. It was the revolt of the common man against semi-literate people like Lalu and Rabri Devi and Paswan, for whom change is poison.
The appearance of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul made no difference at all. The common voter saw them as partners of Lalu & Co and treated them with contempt. You cannot be a leader if you wear a crumpled kurta-pajama and sit down to lunch with some poor family in Darbhanga. Do these people from Delhi-and Italy-know what is good for us, they wondered. After living in India so long, some of them don’t even know the local language and cannot deliver a simple speech of two sentences without asking someone to write it for them in advance. How can these people from distant shores help us, they asked, and why should we vote for them?
Sonia Gandhi & Co is going to meet the same fate four years from now that Lalu & Co met in Bihar last month. Lalu & Co almost destroyed Bihar, and remember they had the blessings of the family from Delhi. The people of India will reject them just as they rejected Lalu & Co in Bihar. It is the same scenario that is going to be played out on a bigger screen. The days of imported kurta-pajamas are over, for the country has changed and is changing beyond recognition, and the voter is in revolt. And when the Hindus revolt, the world trembles. Go and ask the Moghuls, go and ask the British. Now it will be the turn of the Italians.