When Lady Luck Leaves

Lalu Prasad Ya­dav to­day typ­i­fies a per­son whom luck has for­saken. He spends his time in­side a jail while his party is left in a shambles out­side.

Southasia - - FRONT PAGE - By S.G. Jilanee The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer ed­i­tor of SouthAsia Mag­a­zine.

The once flam­boy­ant Lalu Prasad Ya­dav has fallen on bad times. He was the de jure chief min­is­ter of Bi­har for seven years (from 1990 to 1997), and ruled the state for another eight years, from 1997 to 2005, through his spouse Rabri Devi whom he in­stalled in his place af­ter he re­signed. He was also In­dia’s rail­ways min­is­ter for five years. In 1997 he formed a new po­lit­i­cal party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and in 2004 he was the long­est serv­ing pres­i­dent of any In­dian po­lit­i­cal party.

To­day, he is a con­vict. In Oc­to­ber 2013, a spe­cial Cen­tral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion (CBI) court sen­tenced Ya­dav to five years of rig­or­ous im­pris­on­ment, a fine of Rs.25 lakh and dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion of his mem­ber­ship from the Lok Sabha.

Though he has com­pany in jail – his pre­de­ces­sor in of­fice, Ja­gan­nath Mishra, be­sides Jagdish Sharma, MP, and quite a few oth­ers who were also si­mul­ta­ne­ously sen­tenced to var­i­ous jail terms – that would be small com­fort for Ya­dav.

Yet, withal, Lalu Prasad Ya­dav’s rep­u­ta­tion as the most col­or­ful po­lit­i­cal leader re­mains in­tact. Like Jawhar­lal Nehru, he is a mag­net for the mul­ti­tudes. As chief min­is­ter of Bi­har he would of­ten land unan­nounced in some field in a vil­lage and within min­utes crowds would gather around his he­li­copter to lis­ten to him.

His ex­clu­sive style and man­ner­ism is so pop­u­lar that it is im­i­tated and mim­icked even by film and TV stars. He pro­moted the "Bi­hari cul­ture" that in­cludes the use of Bho­jpuri di­alect in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try.

Ya­dav’s char­ac­ter and ex­ploits read like a fa­ble. Com­ing from the low-caste Ya­dav com­mu­nity, whose main oc­cu­pa­tion is cat­tle-breed­ing and sell­ing milk (gwala), he grad­u­ated from Patna Univer­sity. He was ac­tive in pol­i­tics even dur­ing his stu­dent days and was the pres­i­dent of the univer­sity’s stu­dents’ union. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing in law and ob­tain­ing a mas­ter’s de­gree in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence, Ya­dav en­tered na­tional pol­i­tics and was elected a mem­ber of the Lok Sabha in 1977 as a Janata party can­di­date. He was only 29 then and one of the youngest mem­bers of par­lia­ment at that time.

He be­came a mem­ber of the Bi­har Leg­isla­tive As­sem­bly in 1980 and was re-elected for another term in 1985. Ya­dav was nom­i­nated as chief min­is­ter of Bi­har in 1990 by the Janata Dal. By that time, he had es­tab­lished him­self as a leader of the lower castes as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the sin­gle-largest caste of the Ya­davs, that made up 11.7 per­cent of the state pop­u­la­tion.

Dis­il­lu­sioned with the Congress, the Mus­lims also flocked to his side, es­pe­cially be­cause he had pro­jected him­self as a sec­u­lar leader. He re­in­forced his im­age by tak­ing steps such as ar­rest­ing BJP stal­wart Lal Kr­ishna Ad­vani in 1990 when he was pass­ing through Bi­har on his his­toric rath ya­tra to Ay­o­d­hya.

Ya­dav’s mis­for­tunes be­gan with his in­dict­ment in a case of mas­sive cor­rup­tion that hit the head­lines as the Fod­der Scam. First came his res­ig­na­tion as chief min­is­ter in 1997. But the fi­nal blow fell in 2005 when his RJD could man­age to win only 54 seats in the state elec­tions that year, whereas his ri­vals – the Janata Dal United (JDU) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – se­cured more seats. As a con­se­quence, Ya­dav’s chap­ter was al­most closed.

In the 2010 state elec­tions, the RJD tally was re­duced fur­ther to just 22 seats, whereas the rul­ing coali­tion claimed “a record 206 out of the 243 as­sem­bly seats”. In the Lok Sabha too, the pic­ture was equally bleak as the RJD could win only four seats in the 2009 gen­eral elec­tions. Against this back­ground, the fu­ture of the RJD in the 2014 elec­tions hangs in the bal­ance.

Look­ing back at Ya­dav’s per­for­mance in of­fice, there is lit­tle doubt that he was a fail­ure as chief min­is­ter. Dur­ing his ten­ure “ev­ery eco­nomic and so­cial rank­ing of the state went to the low­est level when com­pared to other states of In­dia.” Law and or­der broke down, kid­nap­pings were on the rise and pri­vate ar­mies mush­roomed.

How­ever, it was his stint as

rail­ways min­is­ter for which he is best known at home and abroad. Through his in­no­va­tive re­forms, he turned around the In­dian Rail­ways from a loss-mak­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion to one that reg­is­tered re­mark­able prof­its. In the four years un­der his lead­er­ship, the rail­ways made a cu­mu­la­tive to­tal profit of Rs.250 bil­lion.

Aware that road trans­port, both for pas­sen­gers and goods, pre­sented stiff com­pe­ti­tion to the rail­ways, Ya­dav ini­ti­ated steps to at­tract pas­sen­gers and freight to­wards the rail­ways. Wisely, he did not touch pas­sen­ger fares. In­stead he pro­vided com­fort such as cush­ioned seats in the lower class. He also in­tro­duced faster goods haulage at re­duced freight charges. Both mea­sures led to a turn­around that sur­prised every­body and Ya­dav re­ceived in­ter­na­tional ac­claim as a man­age­ment wizard. He ad­dressed stu­dents at Har­vard and Whar­ton and re­ceived in­vi­ta­tions from sev­eral other Ivy League schools in the United States for de­liv­er­ing lec­tures on his style of man­age­ment.

The Cana­dian Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion pro­duced a four-hour long doc­u­men­tary 'In­dia Ris­ing' in 2007, fea­tur­ing In­di­ans from var­i­ous fields. Ya­dav was the only politi­cian to be fea­tured in the doc­u­men­tary, dis­cussing the turn­around of the In­dian Rail­ways.

But it was the Fod­der Scam that proved to be his Achilles’ heel. Though em­bez­zle­ment had been go­ing on since long, it was dur­ing Ya­dav’s term as chief min­is­ter when it was dis­cov­ered that huge sums of money had been si­phoned off to non-ex­is­tent com­pa­nies. Iron­i­cally, it was Ya­dav him­self who ini­ti­ated in­ves­ti­ga­tions that ul­ti­mately led to his con­vic­tion.

The Fod­der Scam it­self was quite an in­no­va­tive method of cor­rup­tion. The play­ers chose a rel­a­tively lowkey depart­ment of an­i­mal hus­bandry that does not gen­er­ally at­tract much at­ten­tion. The scheme in­volved the fab­ri­ca­tion of vast herds of ghost live­stock, for which fod­der, medicines and an­i­mal hus­bandry equip­ment was sup­pos­edly pro­cured. In this way about Rs.9.50 bil­lion were em­bez­zled.

Ya­dav’s con­vic­tion may be star­tling news. But at its very best, it sim­ply is an acid test of In­dia’s jus­tice sys­tem. How far it will suc­ceed in chang­ing the over­all cor­rup­tion sce­nario re­mains ques­tion­able, par­tic­u­larly when at least 1,460 law­mak­ers are re­port­edly fac­ing var­i­ous crim­i­nal cases.

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