The Tribune - Spectrum

, June 2, 2002
Lead Article

by Santosh Jha

The theatre of the absurd continues to play in Laloo’s Bihar. The richest set ever erected in the history of the state, perhaps even the country, was for Laloo’s daughter’s wedding in Patna on May 23. The jaimala stage was reportedly worth over Rs 1 crore and the guests could choose from 150 items on the menu. The wedding cost the state over Rs 100 crore. Officially, the state has no money to pay staff salaries.

"THE Income Tax department does not interfere in social functions,", Rao Ranvijay Singh,, the IT commissioner and samdhi of Laloo Prasad Yadav, said with an air of nonchalance while talking about the extravagance that marked the wedding of Laloo’s second daughter, Rohini Acharya.

"Jab saiyan bhaye kotwal to dar kahe ka?" quipped the Samajwadi leader and political showman Amar Singh to Laloo Yadav, referring to Laloo’s newly acquired samdhi. "I have not spent much, all these arrangement has been made by my well-wishers," said Laloo Yadav, when asked about the expenses incurred on the marriage. "Laloo Yadav aur mukhya mantri ki beti yani Bihar ki beti," was a satirical remark by a top official on duty at the wedding.


Dressed to kill: Laloo’s brood shows off designer dresses at the wedding
Dressed to kill: Laloo’s brood shows off designer dresses at the wedding

These are a few statements that show how perceptions about money, morality, corruption and politics have changed. A chief minister’s daughter becomes the daughter of the state and that is why the entire administration and wealth of the government and public is mobilised at will or by force to be placed at the disposal of the powers that be. Crores are spent and the source of money is said to be ‘contributions from the public and well-wishers.’ Naturally, when men like Laloo Yadav, his brothers-in-law and their armed men want something done nobody can dare to be anything but a ‘well-wisher.’ The worst part is that such absurdity, blatant violation of the Constitution and mockery of the democratic process is cheered by the leaders and, ultimately, these tactics go on to strengthen vote bank politics. "The masses who vote for Laloo Yadav might be poor and illiterate but they want their leader to be powerful, daring and above the law, like a king or feudal lord," said an Opposition leader. It is, however, an altogether different matter that Laloo Yadav proclaims himself the son of a poor man, vows to fight feudal elements and when charge-sheeted in the infamous Rs 950-crore fodder scam case claimed he was being politically victimised. Every time he gets bail, he says he has faith in the law of the land. Doublespeak and brute power have become hallmarks of a cult leader, and Laloo Yadav is, no doubt, one.

This is the new corporate culture in politics. Politicians are now professing values that are quite different from the high standards of conduct that they displayed in the earlier times. Before Laloo Yadav and Rabri Devi’s daughter’s wedding, Bihar had witnessed the marriage of the daughter of a chief minister whom Laloo considers his political guru. Karpoori Thakur was the first non-Congress CM of Bihar and, after Jayaprakash Narayan, he is considered the real champion of the cause of the dalits and the poor. He had opted to marry off his daughter at his native village. Laloo Yadav had printed around 10,000 cards for Rohini’s marriage. Karpoori Thakur had ordered none. Laloo-Rabri engaged the services of the Public Relations Department, sub-inspectors and cops and magistrates to distribute the invitations. Karpoori Thakur had warned all his officials that if any of them was even found near the marriage site or engaged in making preparations for the ceremony, action would be taken against them. He had not even informed his Cabinet colleagues about the marriage. When some of them, getting wind of the marriage, offered help, he said, "It is the marriage of the daughter of Karpoori Thakur and not the daughter of a CM." A close assistant of the late Thakur says that he had incurred a total expenditure of Rs 10,000-11,000 on the wedding in the mid-seventies, while rough estimates put the entire expenditure on Laloo’s daughter’s marriage at Rs 3/4 crore.

Interestingly, when the then DM of Karpoori Thakur’s home district rushed to the CM’s side a day before the marriage, he was told to go back and attend to his official duties. On the contrary, when Laloo Yadav went to Hichchan Bigha village of his samdhi for a pre-marriage function called tilak, cops and paramilitary forces requisitioned from four districts changed the village into a fortress. The IG, DIG, two DMs, SPs, DSPs and hordes of petty officials with around 50 cars had lined up for Laloo’s convenience. The pre-marriage function lasted a few hours but it left the government coffers lighter by at least Rs 10 crore. The ancestral village of Laloo’s samdhi had no roads, no electricity, no phones, no high school. As he wished to do the function at his native place, every facility was made available within a fortnight. Ministers and top officials camped in the village to ensure that the nondescript village was transformed into a virtual heaven in record time. This Laloo had done even for the village of his first samdhi. From where the money came and on what government account the expenses would be shown and adjusted is anybody’s guess. One wonders how a state government that was so cash-starved that it could not even pay salary to its staff, could manage to spend crores on just one village. This made a journalist quip, "I wish Laloo had hundreds of daughters so that the destiny of an equal number of villages could change."

An interesting aspect of the entire drama is the way politicians went about terrorising traders to part with their goods for the marriage ceremonies. Laloo Yadav loves to term this as contribution from well-wishers. The misuse of government machinery and money does not seem so big a crime nowadays when almost all the politicians are either being convicted or charged for scams and misuse of constitutional powers. Laloo Yadav and Rabri Devi are already facing trial in the Rs 950-crore fodder scam case. The CBI has made Laloo Yadav the chief conspirator in the scam probe. Both Laloo and Rabri are facing charges in the Disproportionate Asset case for amassing wealth beyond their known source of income. After the marriage of Misa Bharti, the first daughter of Laloo Yadav, the Income Tax Department had served notices on Laloo and his first samdhi asking them to account for the huge expenses on the marriage. However, terror tactics have added a new dimension to VIP marriages and this is a new and dangerous trend.

Holi cow: Son-of-the-soil and feudal lord, Laloo has many avataars
Holi cow: Son-of-the-soil and feudal lord, Laloo has many avataars

Rohini’s marriage was not as grand as that of Jayalalithaa’s son and Madhavrao Scindia’s daughter. Laloo Yadav apparently does not have that kind of money. However, Jayalalithaa was a former film star and Scindia a scion of a royal family, so the fact that they had money to flaunt did not really come as a surprise. Laloo does not have the kind of background that would justify the lavish wedding. He is a ‘king’ with empty coffers. So a grand marriage had to be funded by the "taxes and tolls" collected from the traders and government machinery. And both were subjugated to the will of the ‘king’ by brute force. The bureaucracy in Bihar, be it the state cadre or the IAS, is in awe of Laloo and his brothers-in-law who do not hesitate from flexing their muscles. Politicians now show off their notoriety. RJD MP, Mohammad Shahabuddin, opts to write his official press release as "Bahubali RJD MP." Bahubali in Hindi means one whose arms are strong; but locally it also refers to a person who is feared for his terror tactics. The RJD has many bahubalis in its cadre. The time preceding the marriage of Rohini was a nightmarish one for the traders of Patna. Even though they are used to paying haftas (extortion money) to the ruling politicians and the police, they had not imagined that things would come to such a pass. All car agencies in the state capital were ‘attacked’ and ‘forced’ to release all new cars in their showrooms and warehouses for three days of the marriage. Those who resisted and were beaten up and their showrooms were damaged. Finally, they all complied. Around 100 brand new cars — Tata Sumos, Indicas, Tata Safaris, Marutis, Hyundais, Matiz, Palios, etc— were lined up at the airport to transport guests. The sofas used in the marriage were ‘forcibly’ taken away from furniture makers in the Nala Road locality of Patna. It is pointless trying to figure out what was paid for and what came as ‘contribution’ from well-wishers.

Those who say that the system is beyond redemption and despite political will, corruption and inefficiency cannot be eradicated, are wrong. The nation is where it is not because the system is faulty but because the individuals who have power are corrupt. The so-called system is nothing but a collection of individuals who are corrupt. The stupendous management of the marriage at least proved that. Ministers, legislators, officials and cops of the state proved that they were not actually dumb and inefficient. They might not be interested in the development of the state but when it came to obeying Laloo’s orders to ensure that the whole show was superbly managed, they all did a good job. It proved beyond doubt that the leadership can do miracles if it so chooses.

Altogether, 20 ministers, 40 legislators, all top officials, including the chief secretary and the DGP, and hundreds of cops were on duty. Each entry point was manned by a magistrate and a DSP. The traffic was controlled by at least 18 sub-inspectors. All roads approaching the CM house were blocked since morning and thousands of vehicles were parked all along the approach roads. The ministers and legislators had their tasks assigned. A minister was in-charge of the new cars that had to be returned. Another minister looked after the electricity arrangements. Food preparation was assigned to yet another minister. All the ministers, legislators and top officials competed with each other to show the ‘boss’ that they were doing the best job. The two legislator salas (brothers-in-law) of Laloo Yadav were the busiest among the lot. They were the next in command. The Chief Minister’s brothers are notorious for getting any task done by twisting arms.

The discipline of the cops during the ‘marriage duty’ showed that if the top officials are willing, subordinates cannot go astray. Around a thousand cops on duty were ordered to have their hair and nails cut. They were threatened with dire consequences if they touched the food meant for the guests. In the marriage of Laloo’s first daughter, the cops had raided the food stalls, embarrassing Laloo. The orders this time round were obeyed to perfection. The performance of each official, minister and cop was brilliant. One wished they could do the same for the state and its poor people.

Another disturbing trend was that the ‘offenders’ seemed unconcerned about the outcry in the media and Opposition charges over the extravagance of the marriage. The media reported the misuse of official power and resources in detail, flayed the terror tactics of the ruling party goons, reported in detail about the marriage extravaganza, but the Laloo-Rabri family did not even bother to show signs of concern, let alone be guilty or apologetic. "This is a dangerous trend," said a senior leader of the state adding, "Loktantra toh loklaaj se chalta hai." Loklaaj, or fear of a bad name or adverse publicity, is however what the leaders want now in politics. As the voters have ceased to vote for good qualities and character of the candidates, the leaders wish to associate terror and brute power with their name. "Badnam honge toh kya naam na hoga", is the latest slogan in politics, in Bihar at least.