is not easy to explain Lalu Prasad's success as India's
railway minister and his earlier failure as chief minister
Bihar under his stewardship acquired the image of the
most backward state in India, mired in poverty because
of the lack of development, the same Lalu Prasad, when
he took charge of the railway ministry, transformed
it into a miracle of modern management technique.
astonishing nature of his achievement was highlighted
during the presentation of the railway budget when he
announced the enormous profit of Rs.20,000 crore (Rs.200
billion). And this remarkable feat was made possible
without increasing passenger fares and freight rates.
surprisingly, Lalu Prasad has become the toast of business
schools, which are eager to fathom the secret of his
success. So the one-time bare-bodied cowherd, who used
to ride buffaloes in the paddy fields of Bihar in his
poverty-stricken childhood, stalks these days into the
hallowed precincts of management and business institutes
to lecture an audience in business suits on how to successfully
run an establishment.
is little doubt that behind his deceptive exterior ticks
an astute mind, which has little difficulty in mastering
the complexities of a behemoth such as the railways
and ensuring that it operates at a profit.
he had only applied the same mental faculties - observers
often say - to the problems of Bihar, the state under
his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) might have been as much
of a success story as Indian Railways is today.
isn't that he didn't have the time. He presided over
the state's political destiny for as long as a decade
and a half. But he left it worse than when he found
it. And he also paid a political price for his failure
by losing the elections to his one-time friend, Nitish
Kumar of the Janata Dal-United who has replaced him
as chief minister.
understand why Lalu Prasad allowed Bihar to drift into
decay and destitution, it may be instructive to consider
the social factors that played a major role in his rise
has to be remembered that his career in politics coincided
with the period when the backward castes, to which he
belongs, were making their presence felt in the Hindi
heartland states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
impetus to the emergence of the backward castes as a
powerful political force was provided by the implementation
of the Mandal commission report in the early 90s when
V.P. Singh was prime minister. As is known, the emphasis
of the Mandal report on castes led the pro-Hindu Bharatiya
Janata Party to place its focus on communal politics
in an effort to consolidate the Hindus vis-à-vis
the Muslims and other minorities.
is during this mandal-kamandal turmoil (kamandal being
the utensil carried by Hindu holy men) that politicians
like Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar in Bihar and Mulayam
Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh - all belonging to the
backward castes - came to represent influential forces
to reckon with.
the bane of their sectarian politics with its constant
need for pandering to particular castes meant that their
leaders had little time for development projects relating
to health, education, water supply, power and roads.
their whole attention was on manipulating casteist and
communal elements in order to retain and strengthen
their hold on power. As is usual in politics, they also
had to cope with internal tussles, as when Lalu Prasad
and Nitish Kumar - one a Yadav and the other a Kurmi
- fell out and joined rival political formations.
it is not enough only to blame the preoccupation with
caste-based politics for the failures on the development
front. What is perhaps even more important is to understand
the myopia of the politicians whose sole political capital
was their association with particular castes.
Lalu Prasad the championing of the cause of his caste
brethren not only meant endowing them with political
power and social respectability, but also demonstrating
that the leader himself had remained true to his village-based
close identification was unavoidable because it wouldn't
be possible for, say, a city slicker to earn the political
loyalty of the mainly rural, caste-based followers.
In fact, the sophistication of conduct associated with
the urbanites had to be shunned, and the very deficiencies
of the backward castes in terms of purported social
graces paraded with aplomb.
attitude was echoed by former West Bengal Finance Minister
Ashok Mitra when he said, "I am a communist, not
a gentleman". Just as the bourgeois gentleman's
polished demeanour became a matter of derision for a
representative of the proletariat, similarly the backward
castes were supposed to take pride in, say, the lack
of a working knowledge of English. What was supposedly
a drawback for a community became its badge of distinction.
his personal habits, language, clothes and lifestyle,
therefore, Lalu Prasadwas a virtual mirror image of
the members of his caste who live in the countryside.
Unlike any of his predecessors, like Karpoori Thakur,
another backward caste chief minister, Lalu Prasad was
a master in playing this role.
made it a point to be seen among his cows, sometimes
milking them for the benefit of the television cameras,
and living the unostentatious life of a villager, albeit
an affluent one. His language consciously retained the
kind of rusticity the city-dwellers looked down upon
even if they found it amusing.
it was precisely these tricks of presenting himself
as a man of the masses that paid heavy political dividends.
all good things come to an end. And Lalu Prasad may
have overdone his act of playing to the gallery. Not
only that, his focus on being the true villager amounted
to letting the villages remain exactly as they were
for generations - without roads and electricity and
with primitive educational and medical facilities.
was this neglect -- either deliberate or because of
oversight of what has come to be known as the bijli-sadak-pani
(electricity-roads-water) factor, which proved to be
his undoing as chief minister.
he played his bucolic part for the first 10 years of
his tenure to consolidate his base and then turned to
the development issues, he would have been irreplaceable,
especially because, as his successful stint in the railway
ministry has shown, he has the capability for efficient
the end of his 15 years at the helm in Bihar, he did
realize the need for turning his attention to development,
but it was too late by then.
what goes around can come around. Who knows that, as
the wheels of politics turn, Lalu Prasad can still achieve
in Bihar what he has done in Delhi? He is still young,
as politicians go.