Thursday, November 24, 2005

A bad ruler bites the dust
Thursday, November 24, 2005 0:56:15 IST

Literacy has to be a minimum qualification for those who seek to rule; without that it’s impossible to fathom complications of modern governance..

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When a bad ruler bites the dust it is cause for celebration even for those who had no hand in his removal. So last week’s victory of the people of Bihar over Laloo Prasad Yadav is something for us all to rejoice, a celebration we must participate in because Laloo and his wife Rabri were bad rulers who will be remembered in a category entirely their own. Other politicians who have used caste to power their political careers - Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati - are amateurs compared to Laloo and the cynicism with which he manipulated the insecurities and ignorance of some of the poorest, most vulnerable people in our country simply to stay in power.

Unfortunately, he also succeeded in manipulating the media and it played a significant role in keeping him and his semi-literate wife at the helm of Bihar for fifteen years. There was one brief moment, when he anointed Rabri chief minister, when he offended the media’s middle class sensibilities but this passed all too soon and once more he was projected across India as a genial, charismatic, �secular’ leader whose heart was in the right (left?) place even if his administrative skills and moral fibre were flawed.When it was clear last Wednesday that he had lost Bihar, more than one television reporter lamented that Bihar’s politics would not be less �interesting’.Interesting? So interesting that we need statistics to show how interesting Laloo’s rule has been for Bihar.

Statistics speak louder than wordsIn India, the figure of those living below the poverty line is 26 per cent of the population. In Bihar, it is nearly double at 43 per cent. The literacy rate for India is 65 per cent while in Bihar it is 48 per cent, primary school enrolment for India is 95 per cent while in Bihar the figure is 79 per cent. Between 1994-2004 per capita income in India grew 52.2 per cent while Bihar languished at 22.6 per cent under Laloo’s �interesting’ rule.Is it any wonder that last week’s results have shown that the average Bihari prefers Nitish Kumar’s uninteresting rule to Laloo’s interesting times. Mercifully, now even �secular’ analysts are beginning to acknowledge that Nitish’s victory was a vote for governance and not for caste as continues to be projected by those who would have us believe that it was a combination of forward castes and extremely backward castes, who go by the new acronym EBC, that won Nitish Kumar the election.

These same �secular’ analysts have tried to project last week’s results as a victory for Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (U) and a defeat for the Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindutva without pointing out that the BJP got nearly twenty more seats last week than it got in last February’s election: 36 to 55. The Janata Dal (U) got 57 then and 87 last week. Laloo’s defeat had nothing to do with secularism, caste or religion. It had everything to do with an administrative collapse so acute that huge swathes of Bihar seem totally without governance, totally without law and order.Nitish Kumar understands this and in an interview to the Times of India had this to say about his priorities. �Initially, I have to concentrate on basics, which is governance. The government should be visible.

I will first strive to establish law and order in Bihar so that people don’t live in fear any more. Second, I am committed to replacing the current atmosphere of social confrontation with harmony. Third, I have to rebuild infrastructure -like sadak and bijli - so that we can implement schemes for ushering in prosperity’.His priorities make a refreshing change from Laloo Yadav’s ideas on governance. Days before his defeat he pronounced that in Bihar people were not interested in development but in caste. It is of a piece with his general views on governance. It brings to mind a conversation I remember having with him in Patna shortly after he made Rabri Devi chief minister. I asked if he did not think it was important for a chief minister to be at least literate enough to understand the meaning of governance and he replied, �It is officials who run the government not the chief minister’.Later that same morning when I asked Rabri Devi the same question she had a fit. �Is your cameraman literate’ she demanded on camera. �Do you think illiterate people cannot hear? Cannot see?’. It was an interview fraught with tension, and it was on camera, so I did not get into a discussion on the subject but now that I am writing what I hope will be the final obituary of Laloo and Rabri, I want to put on record that I think illiterate people should not even be allowed to contest elections.

Literacy, a must to ruleLiteracy has to be a minimum qualification for those who seek to rule us because without the ability to read, it is impossible to understand the complications of modern governance. So our less educated politicians resort to using such things as caste and religion to win votes and the end result is nearly always a replacement of governance by politics.There are those who argue that if people vote on caste lines they will get casteist politicians. It is my opinion that this is not true. People vote along caste lines only when they see no hope of governance. Give them roads, electricity, schools, jobs and a reasonable standard of living and they would not care less what caste the chief minister came from.Nitish Kumar seems to have understood this; the question now is if he can succeed in five years in setting up the infrastructure of governance in a state that has seen it ground to dust in the past fifteen years.

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