Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Once there was a man called Lalu

Not long time ago Lalu chalisa was a very common thing in the streets of Patna. You could easily purchase it from the many a small shops that are lined up in front of the Patna railway station. These Lalu chalisa that were written by many of the faithful followers of Lalu Yadav would sometimes outsell the more original Hanuman chalisa.

And like his other predecessors from Bihar Lalu too had a fondness for the Indian railways.

Lalu Yadav and Indian Railway shared a very cordial relationship till he was the Railway minister. And both gained from each other. More aptly - it was the Indian railway that gained more. Not going into the economics, it was because of Lalu that the railway became a household name in Pakistan and world over. And it can be debated upon that whether the Railway as an institution gained any long term benefits during the tenure of Lalu.

Lalu Yadav was at that time Bihar and Bihar was nothing but Lalu. And even now that memory has not faded from the minds of many.
Travelling in train as you would enter the green paddy filled area of Bihar you would see small platforms which were called ‘Halts’ emerging out of nowhere. And as the name implies, every train had to make a halt or a stopover at these small stations.

Some of these halts were set in romantically beautiful locations, with a small room that acted as a station master room- guard room- waiting hall, all combined in one. A small kerosene lamp that hung from a long post was always there to increase the air of the suspense. And If I had to spell out an example, I would say that the small station shown in the movie Dil se would draw a close resemblance to many of these halts.

These halts had very uniquely yet common name. They went by the name of Lalu halt, Rabri halt and Sadhu halt. And as can be deduced it was a way of giving respect to their leaders by the villagers and it was considered a sin by many train drivers to pass through these station before making a customary stop.

The tales from Patna that crops up the moment you mention Lalu yadav and Indian railways are many. They will tell you that a train that was waiting to depart at a different platform had to change its platform and come at platform no 1 because one of Lalu Yadavs brother in law felt that it would be inappropriate for his stature to cross over and walk to the other platform and hence he made sure that the train comes to him rather then he going towards the train.

During the time when Lalu Yadav was the railway minister , his Patna residence became the de-facto place for all railway activities. If you had to submit an application for getting a reservation under journalist quota you had to go to this place rather than the DRM office.

Lalu Yadav was a living example of what it looks like to have a larger than life image. Once in Bhopal for a political meeting he went to a journalist house who was his college and school friend. And with him came an entourage of people that included Mulayam Singh, Amar Singh and Prem Chandra Gupta. By the time he had finished drinking water a huge crowd had converged on the place, each individual having their own small desires to see and experience how it feels to look at Lalu. And he obliged each and everyone with photographs and autographs. The Lalu from Bihar.

Once he was passing through Dak bungalow road of Patna and as he looked outside he saw two of his friends having ‘Litti’ at one of the roadside stalls. And he immediately alighted along with his cavalcade and shared jokes and their litti as the whole of Patna watched him.

That was his way of connecting to the people. And more often than not it was not a political gimmick.
During his rule he did gave the socially oppressed a platform due to which they got rid of the fear that they do not have any right to speak out against the high caste is this highly caste-ised atmosphere of Bihar. As he once said " I have not given them heaven but I have given them voice".

He had everything a politician dreams of. A huge popular support, a more than cordial relation with everyone at the state and the Center. If he wanted he could have brought huge investments’ in Bihar, though he never tried. If he wanted he could have made sure that not a single incident of kidnapping or abduction happens in Bihar but again he never tried.

Somehow he made sure that the news of his state being ravaged didn’t reach him. And he forgot that when time comes it will he who would be responsible for the mess, not the member of his inner coterie.

The most infamous incident was the Fodder scam, a ghost of which still continues to taunt him.

Maybe he was blinded by the inner coterie that surrounded him , maybe he was blinded by the desire to cling on to power even though he became aware that it had slipped out of his hand or maybe it was a simple case of over confidence that Bihar will never let him down no matter what ever his attitude, he tested the patience of public for too long.

With time his wit and humor too started failing him. And after the General election of 2009 he was never the same again. He realized that he was fighting the political battle of his life and he was losing it.

There was a time when high flying journalist would do anything to get an appointment with him. They would use all their resources to have an exclusive interview. Now the time has changed. The same journalist are now writing edit page articles lampooning him for what he did to Bihar. Delhi wala ‘mediah’ too have reached Patna to cover the exuberance of the state on the eve of assembly election and they are making a beeline for Nitish leaving out Lalu to fade into oblivion.

With the result pouring in Lalus worst fear stand realized. People had to choose between a time when there was no electricity, no roads and no law and order and a time when all these three are available. And they made a logical choice.

The emotive chord of caste was not able to derail people expectation of a good governance. And it would have been catastrophic for the whole nation if the voters had reposed faith in caste rather than development. If this would have happened no leader would have mustered the courage to neglect caste at the cost of governance.

The ‘chhath’ festival celebrated in Bihar is the only festival where people worship the sun which is setting down contrary to the normal practise of offering prayers to a rising sun.

But that doesn’t seem to be happening with Lalu. And as he loses his shine there are very few who stand by him and fewer who worship him.

He did a political blunder by projecting his son as a future successor to his party in the midst of the electioneering, which led to a huge loss of enthusiasm among the senior party leaders. His opposing of the womens reservation bill too did not go down well with the women voters. He was so much into caste politics that he fielded more than 55 yadavs and most of them lost. He couldn't feel the voice of the mass which was shouting out loud that paani,bijli aur police are like phoenix which are always an issue in todays India.

The fifteen years of his misrule will go in the history books as a phase which made sure that Bihar was pushed down to a level from where it will a steep climb to reach on the top. But then not even his worst detractors will deny he had the rustic nature and a down to earth nature which made him the darlings of many. His witty remarks often came at time when there was not a scope for even the best to attempt to make people laugh. Parliamentarians tell that he lived up to his reputation of a charmer. A charmer of the mass, even the educated mass.

Lalu Yadav was an enigma, who was engulfed by his own self. A self that was often caught on the wrong side of what was good for him.


Neeraj Bhushan said...

Good obituary.

Abhinandan said...

Neerajji thank you so much. Please keep coming back.


Super take!


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