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Race for Bihar starts again

May 29, 2005 22:32 IST

The report that ordered the dissolution of the Bihar assembly, faxed from Moscow at dead of night, implied a great leap backward in political time until it emerged that the author was not the Kremlin, but the President, who was hobnobbing there.

What Bihar thinks today, the rest of India will think tomorrow. It is the epitome of pragmatism, not politics.

The ancient republics of Vaishali and Mithila invented globalisation before they were part of the globe.

Bihar is a state without an economy that boasts high-powered economists.

With a quarter of the country's per capita income, it demonstrates that money is not needed to spend lavishly.

Free enterprise thrives so robustly that Bihar's two main representatives in the Union Cabinet will not allow a small thing like common allegiance to the United Progressive Alliance dampen their cut-throat competition.

It's a state where a politician can order bureaucratic transfers and appointments without holding any local position and where, the legislators whose loyalty is assured are those already in jail.

Only there can a legislature be dissolved without it being convened.

Mahatma Gandhi must have been thinking of Bihar and the man who symbolises it when he wrote, "Railways accentuate the evil nature of man."

A famous son of the soil who rose high in the Congress ranks started life as a ticket-checker when he is said to have demanded Rs 2 from a supposedly ticketless traveller.

Unfazed when the passenger produced his ticket, the checker glared at him, shouting, "This is a female ticket! Four-rupee fine!"

Three Rajdhani Express travellers were apprehended the other day because their tickets bore the names of a Rashtriya Janata Dal member of Parliament and his family. A bigger ticketless group -- politicians all -- was caught last month on a train to Howrah.

What's the point of commanding Rail Bhavan if Biharis must buy tickets?

Once, taxpayers paid for the viceroy's special train; now we pay for the railway minister's election special.

The Rs 250 crore that this election is billed to cost is only a drop in the ocean of what will actually be spent.

The Bharatiya Janata Party says the governor's two sons, glorying in the delightful names of Lovely and Sweety, offered a car and Rs 30 lakh to every National Democratic Alliance MLA to join the UPA.

According to the UPA, the NDA promised the MLAs, who supported the Janata Dal-United's Nitish Kumar for chief minister, Rs 3 crore, a ministerial portfolio and State Legislative Council membership for their wives.

An Upper House obviously has its uses. It also pays not to be taken for granted.

Instead of contesting on the ticket he supports, the astute Bihari fights on the opposite side, wins and is then won over. That is why the great democratic exercise will cost way above the budget mentioned.

Each party must splurge on its own candidates. It must then spend -- even more handsomely -- against other candidates.

Sometimes, this second outlay is directed against their own side.

West Bengal must have picked up a thing or two from Bihar for rumour had it that when Siddhartha Sankar Ray was defeated in Darjeeling, he had really lost to a prominent Congressman who had till then never won an election.

The real fun and games start after the results are announced when worthies are helped to make up their minds on serving the country.

The disparity in incentives explained the timing of the decision to end what Manmohan Singh called 'horse-trading of the worst kind'.

Horses might object, calling it politician-trading of the usual kind, but Rs 30 lakh (even with a car thrown in) doesn't stand a chance with Rs 3 crore cash down plus the prospect of ministerial millions.

Since Lovely and Sweety, dear boys, could not offer more, dad had to step in.

Not that Bihar politics is all filthy lucre leaving no room for idealism.

Of course, the state is committed to the Constitution's secular objectives and concern for the weaker sections.

Dalit Kumar, aka Ram Vilas Paswan, wants to compensate Muslims for comprising only 14% of the population by placing Jabir Hussain, chairman of the Legislative Council, on the masnad.

But distinguishing between Muslim and Muslim as Mohammed Ali Jinnah did, and aware that the World Economic Forum ranks India a low 53rd (out of 58) for gender equality, Laloo Prasad Yadav trumped Dalit Kumar's secular gambit with his own social bid.

Who better to represent the unlettered weaker sections than Rabri Devi, his spouse?

Only an upper caste conspiracy kept her out.

There's a bonanza for private enterprise. 'Bihar mein Laloo, samosa mein aloo' (Lalu in Bihar, potato in samosa) means soaring potato prices.

The need is for special trains, fleets of armoured cars, a chartered aircraft to whisk legislators away to safety, and safer houses than Jharkhand resorts.

Since Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia is not around to lend Gwalior fort, her daughter might provide a dungeon or two in Rajasthan.

Nothing composes the wavering mind so effectively as confinement. That too demands regiments of armed guards.

In fact, Bihar ought to be transferred to Lee Kuan Yew, who has long hankered for a free hand in a tract of India that he can transform into another consumerist Singapore.

He won't have to try too hard. Acutely aware of the price of poverty, canny Biharis have always known that Indians are really dedicated monetarists while pretending commitment to Fabian socialism.

Sunanda K Datta-Ray