Friday, January 21, 2011

A Tale of Two Chief Ministers

It was during the heydays of a “social justice warrior” as the head of state of Bihar, that a colleague in Patna told us these stories. We have heard time and again variations of the first. Anyone who had been to Bihar in its “dark days” would not dismiss it even as an apocryphal story. The second, however apocryphal it might appear, was vouched as a real-life incident: 

A famous surgeon in Patna was kidnapped. His kidnappers demanded a ransom of two lakh rupees for his release. He informed his kidnappers that they had better release him as he was one of “you know who’s” personal physicians. The kidnappers laughed and told him that if he was so confident he could call his “patron”. The surgeon called the “patron” and requested him to get him released. Instead of intervening with the captors, the “patron” just asked about the amount of ransom demanded. When the surgeon told him the figure the “patron” reportedly advised him he had better pay up and get his release. The surgeon was nonplussed and wanted to know why the “patron” could not obtain release of his own personal physician. The “patron” replied that if he intervened the ransom would only be hiked. So it was best the surgeon arranged for the money and obtain his release.

A big burly ‘dada’ stopped what is generally known as a ‘shared auto-rickshaw’. He found a thin man sitting in the back and ordered him to move into the front seat alongside the driver as he a ‘dada’ would like to ride alone in the back. The ‘thin’ man protested saying as he had boarded the auto in an earlier stop he found no reason to vacate the seat and move to the front. The ‘dada’ picked him up by the scruff of his neck and bodily pushed him into the front seat. The ‘thin’ man silently moved forward but did not alight in his intended stop. He rode on till the ‘dada’ alighted at his stop and followed him on foot till they reached a secluded spot. He took out a pistol from his pocket, shot him through the back and walked away.

Do you find these stories unbelievable? Then, read on. Here are some real life incidents that were recounted to this writer:  

We were staying in Hotel Maurya located on Patna’s main road that runs parallel to the railway station and on which major political parties have their offices. At about 10 P.M. a colleague wanted to go to the STD booth across the road to call home. (The boss wouldn’t approve long distance calls from hotels as they were loaded with exorbitant service charges.) The hotel security staff warned him against crossing the road as it was not safe to do so at night.

After a sales conference at head-office, a colleague returned to Patna one summer morning when dawn was breaking. As his residence was only a short distance away, he thought he would take a walk in the pre-dawn coolness. Suddenly a guy emerged from one of the by-lanes and relieved him of his briefcase, purse and hand-phone at pistol point.

In another replica of the same incident a couple of our colleagues were relieved of their personal belongings as they were returning from a meeting in the sales office. Only it was dusk that time on another day.

A colleague boarded an AC II Tier compartment of the Patna – Hyderabad Express which left Patna at about 8 P. M. The conductor promptly locked all doors as soon as the train left the station. When it stopped at the next station forty-five minutes later a passenger on the platform banged on the door shouting for it to be opened. While no one showed any inclination to open it our colleague went to the door seeking to open it. Another passenger rushed after him shrieking not to open it. When our colleague wanted to know why, the other passenger simply asked him whether he was from South India. Informed that he was the other passenger advised him never to open doors in a train at night.

All these incidents occurred around the turn of the century and not in any rural outback of backward Bihar but in the state capital. No wonder the central government’s national highways projects ran aground in Bihar. It may be difficult to believe this but it was said that Universities in Bihar declared examination results at least two years after they were held. 

This was what fifteen years of rampant misrule characterized by nepotism and criminalization did to a state that had a hoary past — a state that could boast of the Guptas and the Mauryas, Gaya and Nalanda, Rajendra Prasad and Jaya Prkash Narayan. The social justice warrior, the “patron” mentioned in the first incident found the psychological formula for success in his Muslim Yadav (MY) combination and it would work (endlessly, he hoped) if only the denizens of the state were kept in darkness. Education and development would be a nuisance.  While he basked amidst his buffalos and dung televised by helpful television channels for the entire world to see, it was rumoured that he educated his children in an exclusive school in faraway Mount Abu. Such expensive education — denied to ordinary mortals of the state — cost a whopping lakh per child per month and was probably charged to fodder!

When in 1997 he had to step down as Chief Minister after the fodder scam broke, social justice warrior chose his barely literate wife as his proxy although his party had a near two thirds majority in the Assembly. This champion of social justice did not find any other MLA suitable to lead the state. Strange things came to light in the investigation of the 950-crore fodder scam. When the registration numbers of some of the vehicles which transported the fodder were screened they turned out to be those of two-wheeled scooters and not six-wheeled trucks. 

In spite of all this, the social justice warrior was feted by the media first as chief minister of India’s second largest state (in terms of population) and then as railway minister. His rustic humour was avidly lapped up. The media needed such secular champions of social justice to cock a snook at what it derisively calls the Hindutwa forces. Media portrayal of his success as railway minister was another chimera — either born out of its fertile imagination or gullibility or the effectiveness of his PR. The business schools in India and abroad which feted him for his success as rail minister were either naïve or done in by some cynical but masterful PR wok. 

The contrast between media’s darling social justice warrior and its bête noire from Gujarat cannot be starker. It may not be amused but Google returned 30,000 jokes including videos for the social justice warrior plus of course 286,000 general results. On the other hand there were 4,860,000 results for his Gujarat counterpart.

Ever since the party seconded him to Gujarat as Chief Minister, he set a brisk pace for development and only development. The bachelor CM who leads a Spartan life practically lives on the job. A Goebbelsian media lying in its teeth or perjuring NGOs did not deter him. In every aspect of governance —agriculture, employment generation, educating the girl child, improving literacy / reversing school drop-out rates, prevention of female foeticide, inculcation of work culture, rural electrification or water harvesting — his state surged ahead leaving behind all others.