Monday, December 05, 2005

Good riddance of bad rubbish

Good riddance of bad rubbish
M V KAMATH

After fifteen years of corrupt rule, Lalu Prasad Yadav, a political joker if ever there was one, has been shown the door. The State of Bihar, reeking under crime, corruption and total lawlessness must breathe a sign of relief. Hopefully the new Nitish Kumar Government will bring peace and sanity in a land that had given birth to Buddha, and in recent years was the home of Babu Rajendra Prasad and Jayaprakash Narayan.

There are five cases against Lalu Prasad, including the fodder scam. The CBI, in these years, has been showing reluctance to pursue the cases against Lalu Prasad involving crores of rupees. These cases must now be re-opened and justice should be seen to be done. But it is well to remember that Lalu Prasad still has a base in his State. It would be foolish to write him off at this stage. He still retains the allegiance of a substantial section of the people.

It was just a minuscule negative swing of less than one per cent votes that cost the RJD-led Secular Democratic Front (SDF) dear. For the SDF constituents - RJD, Congress, NCP and CPM, who polled 31.08 per cent votes, just 0.95 per cent less than what they got in February meant a loss of 29 seats bringing the tally down from 89 to 65. If the CPI and CPM had not split (the CPM went with the RJD-led Secular Democratic front while the CPI went along with Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janashakti Party) and both, along with Congress, had joined hands with the so-called Secular Democratic Front, Lalu could still have remained in power.

It is wise to remember that. Lalu Prasad still has a strong caste-ist vote bank in Bihar. He is down but not yet out. Only when he is tried and found guilty of the scam charges and is put behind bars can decent Biharis breathe more easily. As of now, Bihar is low down on the scale of prosperity among all Indian States. No one in his right mind would want to invest in Bihar, a State, disowned by its own people.

In past years scores of middle class Biharis migrated to other parts of India, to escape terrorism and extortionists' demands. Thousands of poor left Bihar to look for jobs elsewhere, from Jammu & Kashmir to Goa and Karnataka. Many were willing to work for 16 hours a day, to earn Rs120, in competition with local labour, thus inviting the latter's anger. Bihari labour is the most disliked, for obvious reasons. In order to survive, they have dared to undercut legitimate wage standards prevailing in most parts of India.

In no sphere, it would seem does Bihar command any respect. That is the saddest part of it all. That the Congress should support a man like Lalu Prasad, tainted with scam, is even worse. Consider the following: The Fodder Scam, amounting to Rs 1,153 crore remains yet to be resolved after nine years. The same is true of the Bitumen scam worth Rs 400 crore. The CBI has yet to probe the Medicine scam of Rs 300 crore, the Land scam of Rs 400 crore, the Blanket scam of Rs 40 crore, not to speak of the Tree Cutting scam of Rs 300 crore.

Despite all these scams, Lalu continues to remain in the Congress-led UPA government. What does it say of the Congress? No matter how much the Congress would deny it, Paswan, its mascot, was openly advocating communalism in Bihar by promising, if successful, to appoint a Muslim as the Chief Minister. Taking the lead in giving tickets to Muslims was the Lok Janashakti Party (LJP). It fielded a maximum of 47 Muslim candidates to counter Lalu Prasad's party. Only one Muslim LJP candidate managed to win.

Lalu's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) itself fielded 30 Muslim candidates, promising reservations in jobs to Muslims at the same time. Barely four won. In fact, throughout the State Muslim candidates put up a very poor show: of 1,020 candidates only 15 Muslim candidates won. That says something. In the past Lalu Prasad Yadav had ridden to power on a backward caste upsurge in the aftermath of the Mandal movement. He presented himself as the saviour of backward castes. He went out of his way to make fun of upper caste subordinates in the government and was not above humiliating some of them.

More, he deliberately - and breaking all rules - promoted those government servants hailing from the lower, backward castes. Thereby he thought he was delivering social justice. In his zeal to raise standards of the backward castes, he ushered in a rift between them and upper castes, which started to migrate. Standards began to fall rapidly. The economy went into a tail spin. Corruption became rampant. Caste conflicts arose, sharply dividing the people.

The State's debts started rising rapidly, even as revenues fell. Bihar's per capita expenditure on medical and health facilities came to Rs 86 in comparison to the national average of Rs 157. It was the same story in other fields as well. Thus, the per capita expenditure on roads and bridges came to Rs 44.60 against a national average of Rs 118 and the per capita expenditure on irrigation and flood control was as low as Rs 104.40 when the national average was Rs 200.

To Lalu Prasad, these figures did not matter. Power was all. The time came when tourists were advised not to stir out of their hotels after sunset lest they were attacked by dacoits. Understandably Bihar's tourist trade is about the lowest in the country. The guardians of law and order often looked the other way. Upper castes started organising their own senas to maintain caste security. Jails were filled but without sufficient security infra-structure.

Thus, Jehanabad Jail, which was recently raided by Maoists and had an official capacity for 140 prisoners, had 658 prisoners but not more than eight guards! That was open invitation for a Maoist Army to attack the jail and get the prisoners released. Jehanabad jail did not even have a Jail Superintendent for the past six months. And all this is Lalu Prasad's raj. The fact that an 'army' of over 1,000 Maoists raided the Jehanabad jail itself speaks loudly of the economic situation in Bihar.

Why would anybody join Maoists if they had some reasonable means of living? Nitish Kumar, in these circumstances, has a big job on hand. He has to convince capital that it can safely invest in Bihar. In the next five years he has to create thousands of jobs to restore people's self-confidence, and give them a sound reason to stay at home rather than to look for jobs elsewhere. Corrupt officials have to be severely punished to show that the new Chief Minister means business. And Nitish Kumar himself must show that his conduct is above board. But the future beckons him.

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