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The Rediff Interview/Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi

February 21, 2005

She was given the task of preserving the chief minister's seat by becoming her husband's proxy. Stories say her husband used to nudge her to wave at the teeming masses on election campaigns. But Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi is no more a reluctant administrator. She is no more the shy and introvert Mrs Lalu Prasad Yadav. She seems at home in the crucial political arena of rural Bihar.

The metamorphosis of an uneducated, conservative, family-centric, homesick wife into a politician is noticeable when you meet Rabri Devi. The nervousness is gone. She does not duck questions, and has stock answers ready for most political ones. She is not hesitant to take on Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan with gusto.

In an exclusive interview with Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt, Rabri Devi exhibits the traits that have made her husband one of India's most-watched politicians -- rustic charm and the knack of turning limitation to advantage.

You have ruled for almost eight years now. How has it changed you?

When a woman gets married she goes to a new home. She has apprehensions, she feels shy. She feels she may not be able to take up new responsibilities. But once she makes the home hers, everything falls in place. I was dragged by my party leaders and they forced me to take an oath. I was quite reluctant. Till I became chief minister I had never gone out. Not even to buy vegetables. Even my saris were brought by Laluji.

But now, I know my job. I have learnt it slowly. Laluji and I never go out on vacation or to see a film. We are busy at work.

You can hardly read or write. How do you manage?

So what? Does the prime minister of India read all the papers put before him? Or does the President? Officers read on their behalf. I also have officers who read. Why do you have secretaries in each department?

I take decisions. There are ministers and officers who are assigned their job. I look after the final decisions.

But bureaucrats can take advantage. You can only read little bit of Hindi and know no other language.

Do you think they will dare? We work on trust. They know I cannot be taken for a ride. They will never do that. Nobody will cheat me. What are you talking about? This is Bihar. Bihar, do you understand?

Isn't it true that Mukund Prasad, your advisor, reads all the files and you just sign them?

Yes, he and others read. But I ask them to read out everything important from the files. I sign only after I understand. I can't read because there was no school in my village. I remained uneducated because of the then Congress government.

But I do have eyes and ears and the power to understand. I am not afraid. Slowly, I kept learning. I don't get angry nor do I get baffled. Hum ko koi chinta nahin hoti hai jab office main kam karte hai [I work in the office without any worries]

Do you understand the finance ministry?

(Smiles coyly) I am the finance minister.

Outside Bihar, when people talk about you, they are either bewildered or they smirk. Many ask how can an illiterate woman rule a state.

Padha likha fans sakta hai, anpadh ko aap nahin fansa sakte hai! (Educated people can be fooled; you can't fool an uneducated person). The uneducated too have brains.

Do you feel hurt when someone laughs at you?

Why should it hurt me? Rather, I like it because I know for sure that guy doesn't have brains. Dimag hi nahin uske pas; kya karega?

Your eldest daughter is married in New Delhi and another in Singapore. Don't they tell you they want that kind of progress in Bihar?

Can you create such things without money? People who want to invest in Bihar are wrongly influenced by the propaganda of our Opposition leaders. What can I do?

It's shocking to see the absence of any kind of development in Bihar.

I agree we haven't done enough, but where were the funds? Once a year the Planning Commission gives me money, that's all. No money comes from any other source. Bihar receives step-motherly treatment from the Centre. We are neglected. Also, after the bantwara (partition) of Bihar, we lost revenues from coalmines, which have gone to Jharkhand.

Vajpayee has cheated Biharis. He partitioned Bihar and didn't give us a penny. Ab kam kahan se karvayen? (What work can we do?) After 15 years, Laluji is in New Delhi. This year, we have got Rs 4,000 crore. Now we will use it in development.

Are you satisfied with your performance?

I know I have done well. I reach out to people. We talk to them, we mix with them and eat with them.

There is no sign of factories or the information technology sector in Bihar while India is known for it all over world.

I have inaugurated the construction of the IT building in Patna. It's not true that Laluji is against IT. We had factories but they have gone to Jharkhand.

Why are you sure that you are going to win?

We have worked hard. Who is kidnapping innocent in Bihar? Ram Vilas Paswan and Janata Dal-United and C P Thakur of the BJP. Who has the largest number of criminals in his party? Paswan. Munna Shukla, Rajen Tiwari, Sunil Pande and many others goondas are with him. It is absolutely false propaganda that we are losing. Ram Vilas is petrified. He and his party will be trounced.

In the last Lok Sabha election when Paswan went to Raghopur -- in my constituency -- people garlanded him with shoes. He came running to me and said, 'Please hold some public meetings and ask the people to vote for me.' I haven't forgotten that.

All the exit polls predict your party will not get majority.

How do they know? How can they reach to the interiors of Bihar in a day?

What is your vision for Bihar?

I want the poor to get their rights. Let help reach them. I want to remove poverty.

What will you say if you lose?

I'll tell the people, 'Now, try and develop Bihar.' Samhalo apna raj!

Main image: Uday Kuckian

Complete Coverage: Assembly Elections 2005

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