Posts Tagged ‘Nitish Kumar’

The other day, I was in the bank queue and standing behind me was a gentleman from Bihar, so we got chatting and he said “Bahut kathin hain, Modi jo koshish kar rahein” (It is very difficult, what Modiji is trying to achieve). I asked him to explain, and he said he had returned from his village in Bihar where no one wants Narendra Modi’s anti-corruption drive to succeed because they are happy with the corrupt way of life.

When you hear such things you know Narendra Modi is facing an impossible, nay herculean task, in ending corruption. His own party is neck-deep in it. It is ingrained in the system and some people don’t want to get rid of it. They will fight it to their last breath because for them, it’s a question of their very existence.

The Bihari gent said that in his village, dozens of fictitious Jan Dhan accounts have been opened by crooked bank officials in which money is being credited and withdrawn every month by nameless persons. The account holders, thekedars and bank officials take a cut and everyone is happy. Why should they want to change a system that fetches such returns without an honest day’s work?

When I told him about the cash being recovered from all over the country, he laughed. He said that schemes such as MNREGA were the biggest financial scams in independent India and even Mr Modi with all his good intentions can do nothing, because the rot has gone too deep.  And this is happening in Nitish Kumar’s Bihar, when he is backing the campaign against black money.

Like me, he too was despondent. “Chor hain sab. Is desh ka kabhi bhala nahin hoga.” (They are all thieves. The country will never improve).

The day before on Twitter I had an argument on the very subject with a journalist who said I could not base my example on one instance. Well, here’s another.

I am no economist, but as a middle-class Indian I see around me the willingness to change but there are three other groups of people who are fighting change. The first is the corrupt lot for whom demonetisation has been an avoidable disaster, and if they can’t save their money they definitely don’t want a system which won’t let them make anymore. Look at the way the bankers and lawyers have circumvented the system to issue trunks full of new currencies to all kinds of dubious people, while the common Indian frets and fumes in a queue.

The second lot is the so-called ‘left-liberals’, who share a visceral hatred for Modi. Irrespective of what he or anyone from his government proposes, they will close their eyes and oppose it. The gates are closed for any debate on the issue, and if there is one, it’s a monologue in which they are right, and everyone else is wrong.

For example. I hear people on TV channels trotting out the most bizarre reasons for not going digital. Some of the more absurd reasons I’ve heard by idiots in the garb of journalists, on why poor people can’t open bank accounts is, that poor people haven’t been inside a bank. Haven’t they been inside a post office or dak ghar as it is called in the villages? In a village in Uttar Pradesh, one man says no one in government told him he could open a bank account. In the past so many years if no one in government told villagers that they could open accounts even in post offices, who is to blame? If there are so few banks in villages, then who is to take the blame?

Then there is the absolutely bizarre justification from people against demonetisation. It would make me laugh if it weren’t so tragic. They will say that daily wagers have been the worst-hit because the small factory owner has been forced to shut down. Why the “small factory owner” was running a cash-and-carry business for decades, is something none of them have cared to ask that guy. And it’s not like he just started it. He’s been doing it for years and his father before him. Has he tried to open accounts for his workers in these last 30 days to solve their problem? No he hasn’t. He has preferred to shut down instead. It’s pretty obvious why.

Just go to some of the busy chowks in a city like Pune on any given day. Among the milling crowds are dozens of labourers. They aren’t all waiting for public transport. They, men, and women with babies, are waiting for a contractor to land up there and pick them out like cattle to herd them into a truck and take them to a construction site. Here they will work in the blazing sun and at the end of the day, they will get paid for a day’s work, from which they have to pay the contractor. You can guess what they end up with after paying that. That is, of course, not a concern of journalists churning out reports about the negative impacts of demonetisation. That’s not the angle they’re looking for in that story.

And finally, there is a fourth group – journalists – who are happy sitting in their air conditioned offices churning out stories from twitter feeds and Facebook updates and calling them ‘exclusives’. I remember joking years ago that some journalists could turn a press release into a byline story, but I never realised it would get so bad! They’ve gotten so used to sucking up to ministers and drinking subsidised booze at the Press Club that they’ve forgotten their primary responsibility – to question those in power, and keep questioning them, until they answer.

Not one journalist is asking this simple question of the politicians in and out of power – What was your party doing all these years?” Not one journalist is throwing up facts and figures in the faces of these politicians and asking them to explain the discrepancies. Some of the politicians have become millionaires and billionaires in five years. Not one journalist asks them how they made so much without any legal source of income, except their MP’s salaries. That is left to the analysts and opinion writers, who very few read anyway. So after a few hours of being stonewalled by the politicians, the journalists go back to the Press Club and order another drink, and move on to their next desktop exclusive.

I am sorry for being such a cynic, but I completely understand what the Bihari gentleman meant when he said, “Chor hain sab….”


I can understand why supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and especially Narendra Modi, are raging. It is because they know they were within sniffing distance of victory in Delhi, and someone, who they least expected, pulled the red carpet from under their feet. They were that close, and had they won, the saffron party would have completed a fantastic sweep of the assembly elections – four out of five. More importantly, to win in Delhi would have been the perfect launch pad for Lok Sabha 2014, when Narendra Modi would surely have swept the polls across the nation, and his ardent followers would have been over the moon. And I mean nation, not just the cow belt, because judging by the response he is getting, even in the South, it seems for the first time, he might achieve the impossible – a win down there – with the party’s allies, except maybe in Kerala.

And then out popped Aam Aadmi Arvind Kejriwal, wrapped up in his pullover, coat, muffler and topi, and stepped on the BJP’s celebratory cake. Up till the day the Assembly election results were being declared, the BJP and the Congress had both treated Kejriwal like the proverbial fly in the ointment – the minor irritant – that would be swatted into silence in another 24 hours (Example: Kejriwal isn’t even on the radar – Sheila Dikshit). They really didn’t think he was going to do much damage, and even the exit polls weren’t too sure. Much to their horror and anguish, the fly became a bee that stung them hard. Sheila Dixit, lost her constituency and her chair, and the BJP just lost its shirt at the audacity of this middle class ‘nobody’ who stuck it to them, where it hurts.

They believe the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has dared to steal from right under the nose of the BJP, what was rightfully theirs! And that also explains why the saffron supporters are savaging Kejriwal and his fledgling party with innuendos and pictures ridiculing him and his movement. What they are showing themselves to be, are poor losers. The funny thing is, the Congress was everything the people didn’t want in a political party and government– corrupt, inefficient, uncaring, and Kejriwal came along and whipped them, in their backyard. Instead of cheering for him there are some people who are ridiculing him. And these are mostly furious friends and supporters of the saffron brigade.

There’s a photograph that’s doing the rounds on Facebook, and probably on twitter. It is of Arvind Kejriwal in a Toyota SUV at Pune airport supposedly going to meet Anna Hazare at Ralegan Siddhi. It’s from a national daily. It’s obviously been used to convey that a guy who preaches simplicity and self righteousness has no qualms sitting in an SUV. It’s a pretty shallow attempt by the newspaper, for which incidentally I have great respect, to create a controversy where there isn’t any. Then there’s constant comparison between IIT pass-out Kejriwal and another IIT pass-out, BJP Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar of Goa, who has been photographed riding pillion on a scooter in Goa. I am sure Parrikar is a good, honest and hard working man. I’ve also read that he travels economy class and by bus, but I am sure he does not travel by scooter to work every day!

While I accept that I don’t see any party that can stand up to the BJP, right now, I don’t think I want to see a Parliament where there is no opposition worth the name. Unfortunately, even outside Delhi, the likes of Mulayam Singh, Mamata Banerji, Mayawati, Sharad Pawar, and Nitish Kumar are, together, not strong enough to pose a challenge even to Amit Shah, leave along Modi! And try as they might, Rahul Gandhi and his ragtag bunch are simply incapable of taking on Modi. Can Kejriwal?

At the recent speech to industry captains, Rahul spoke a lot about what his government has done and what it wanted to do, and yet it sounded so hollow, because it was just the political speech that the industry wasn’t interested in hearing. There really is no point in saying ‘we will do this’, or ‘we will do that’ when his government had ten years to do it, and didn’t. And now, just as the elections are around the corner and time is running out for the UPA government, it gets off its behind and announces a slew of populist measures, which everyone, with an iota of common sense, knows is just pre-poll gimmickry and will take another few years to bear fruit.

I was reading a Facebook status update about train passengers in Patna without confirmed reservations who barged into a reserved compartment and locked themselves in, thereby effectively denying legitimate ticket-holders entry into the bogey! There are only two States in the country where such a thing can happen – Bihar and Uttar Pradesh!

I remember writing a blog post after the Assembly elections when Lalu and Rabri were given marching orders by the electorate in 2010 and Nitish took over. I had also said in that blog post that it would take Nitish at least two decades to put the State back on the road to some semblance of prosperity.  After that, I had heard that Bihar had been changing for the better. For Nitish Kumar it must have been like climbing Mount Everest.

His biggest problem would have been to change the mindset of people who have lived in the belief that if they want something that is not theirs they don’t ask if they can have it, they just take it. In other words, the Goonda culture. That is Lalu’s legacy which has filtered down to the man on the street in Bihar. The kidnappings, murders, etc are all part of that legacy. And that is what I hoped, Nitish would change. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is happening, though I sincerely hope I am wrong.

So when I read the FB update I remembered an incident during a trip back from then Calcutta to Bombay sometime in the mid 1980s. When the train reached Kiul there were just four of us in that IIIrd sleeper compartment, which meant that at Patna, there were berths reserved for the rest who would be boarding. What happened next was a fascinating replay of what happens at most railway stations in the East and North on any given day. Those with reservations got in and got comfortable. Then a train conductor appeared outside and shouted to those clamouring for a seat or berth to form a queue. I marvelled at the order he had managed to put things in.

Then he stuck both hands out and as passengers trooped in, they put money in the TC’s palm! I watched mesmerised. It was like clockwork — opening his palms, closing his palms once the money was in, putting his hands in his coal pockets, and then pulling them out for the next round. He soon got tired and called for help to pocket all the money! There are, I think around 74 berths in a IIIrd sleeper, but there must have been at least double that number in the compartment before the train left Patna.

I took down his badge number and name and on my return to Pune, wrote a letter to the railway minister. About a year later I got a reply from the ministry, which stated that they had conducted an inquiry and found that there was no TC with that name or number on that route, and no such person at Patna Junction either! The letter helpfully added that since I was sure of the TC’s identity they would be having an identification parade at Danapur Junction on a given date, so I should be present.

I wrote back to the railway minister telling him that I wouldn’t be attending any ID parade, because after a year it would be impossible for me to identify a man I saw on a dimly lit Patna Station. I added that having been born and lived in Bihar I knew exactly what could happen to me, if I ever landed up there to identify a crook!

It is these incidents that have given Bihar a bad name. So let’s hope for Nitish’s sake, that whatever happened at Patna Junction recently was an isolated incident, and not a sign of things to come – or return, to what they were during Lalu’s time.

The two things about the just concluded elections in Bihar, apart from Nitish’s victory, that I am really happy about are 1) the demolition of the Laloo charisma 2) proof that Rahul Gandhi is a DUD as a politician and a vote puller. Sorry ladies, just being “cute” and good-looking are not the criteria for becoming an astute leader. But we’ll come to No. 2 later.

The election results in Bihar have certainly been a revelation. The amazing thing was that women voters outnumbered the men. In a state like Bihar where criminals have always outnumbered the honest politicians, and women usually bear the brunt at home or on the street, the fact that they outnumbered the men, just means that they put their trust in Nitish Kumar. And I don’t think Bihar ever witnessed any such thing before.

Let’s be honest, it’s going to take Nitish or any other chief minister at least another two decades to undo the mess created by Laloo and his wife. Nitish has already said that he doesn’t have a magic wand and I think we should let him do his job. Thankfully, I think even the BJP realise that they have a good thing going with Nitish and to indulge in petty politicking would also harm their interests.

I left Bihar in 1967 and not ONCE since then have I felt like either going back or have ever liked to admit that I’m from Bihar. Please note that I do not say I’m a Bihari, because my mother was a Malayali, who lived all her adult life everywhere except South of the Vindhyas.

Since 1967, this is the first time I am not embarrassed to admit that I’m from Bihar. Every time someone said the word ‘Bihari’ I would cringe! And all this because of one man – Laloo Prasad Yadav! The man may have a fan following among the film stars and he may have his diehard followers, but as the phrase goes “it takes one to know one”. To the rest of the people, who believe in good governance and who have left Bihar for various reasons, he is just a sweet talking fraudster, who took the people of the State and the country for one hell of a ride.

I’ve heard horror stories from people who have lived all their lives there about the way the State was mismanaged by Laloo. To say that it left me shocked would be an understatement. Like this very well-known jeweller’s family who met us when we visited Patna to request my mother for admissions for their two children in schools in far away Ooty. This was to ensure that the kids would not fall prey to those who had made kidnapping an industry and were all on the payroll of powerful politicians. They (the jewellers) travelled in jeeps with gun-toting guards and had a three-tier security set-up at home. One of them told us how in his presence a very, very powerful politician spoke to one of the kidnappers and requested him to reduce the ransom amount!

That was Laloo’s Bihar and while I am not saying that every MLA in Nitish’s party is clean, I think he has probably learnt from Laloo’s style of functioning that surrounding himself with criminal elements is hardly going to help his cause. And after the kind of victory he has just achieved, he would be a fool to fraternise with the lumpen elements who were Laloo’s support staff. Nitish could have inadvertently made Laloo a hero by foisting cases against him like the animal husbandry scam. But he didn’t, and allowed Laloo to discredit himself. Also, the fact that Rabri lost from both places she contested, should have been an eye-opener for the man who thought his silver tongue was enough to bring him back into the CM’s residence.

Now coming to Rahul Gandhi and his so-called charisma — sorry ladies, he ain’t got it! The squeaky-voiced Rahul is no patch on his father or his grandmother. Travelling in Mumbai locals or with passengers in a second class compartment in UP is hardly the way to learn governance. I think Nitish hit the nail on the head when he said that Rahul should become a chief minister before trying to be prime minister.

This must be the only country in the world where prime ministers and chief ministers are anointed and not elected. It almost makes the royals in the United Kingdom seem common in front of this ‘royal’ family in India. When will the people of this country follow Bihar’s example and tell the Gandhis that this country and its assets are not their personal fiefdom?

Oh, and a small suggestion to the lady in 10, Janpath. If she really wants to win the next election, she should tell her son to crawl back under the rock he came from, and ask her daughter to take over the reins. If anyone can take the grand old party back to its glory days, when the real Mrs G was in control, it is Priyanka. She is the one who will bring in the votes, not Rahul.

Yesterday while watching a Hindi news channel, I came across a clip of a voter being interviewed. This guy was a non-resident Indian, who hadn’t missed a Bihar election since he migrated to the US some 40 years ago. During every election he flew down to Bihar and cast his vote. When asked why he did it, he said “I love my state, love my town Darbhanga, and consider it my duty to vote.”

Bihar is going to elect a new chief minister and both Nitish Kumar and Laloo Yadav are expecting to win. For someone who spent his first nine years in that chaotic place, I won’t be surprised if even that happens! I generally have a very low opinion of Bihar and very few good things to say about it, whenever I’m asked, because I think, and so do a lot of others, that it’s beyond repair.

I don’t know how good a chief minister Nitish Kumar is, but Biharis tell me that Bihar has changed for the better ever since he took over and he is doing his damndest to restore some sanity there. But the problem is that politicians before him have so totally ravaged its resources that there is very little left to salvage. It’s a bit like pumping life-saving drugs into someone in the final stages of cancer. If Dr. Nitish Kumar can cure Bihar of this terminal illness it would be a miracle. So, unlike the conscientious Bihari from the US, I am, unfortunately, unable to generate that kind of enthusiasm for the place.

I too was born in a small town of Bihar called Bhagalpur, and till my father’s death in 1995, we owned ancestral property in Darbhanga. When I flew down to Patna from Mumbai in 1994, to visit my critically ill father in Darbhanga, I don’t think I was prepared for what I was about to experience. From the time I got off at Varanasi airport to the time I finally left Patna, it was one unpleasant experience after another.

I was hit by an overbearing stench as I exited Patna Junction well after midnight looking for a hotel. The reason for this was that the conservancy workers were demanding a pay hike and thought the best way to bring that to the notice of the government was to pile up garbage over a foot high on the road leading to the town from Patna Junction. Then there was a power cut in the town and only the big hotels could afford to keep the power running. I was stuck in one that couldn’t.

The next day I set off for Darbhanga and on the way my brother’s friend gave me an account of the horror stories about the badlands of Bihar. About how kidnapping had become a way of life; how the ministers and other high profile politicians were themselves in on the cut from the kidnappers; how businessmen were now keeping hired guns and electronic surveillance in their homes for protection; how women were abducted when they were travelling with their husbands, whisked away at gunpoint and raped.

(I did have one pleasant experience in Patna sometime in the early 1990s when I was returning from a friend’s place. As I was looking for a rickshaw to take me back to my sister’s place in Pataliputra Colony, I was stopped at a police post. I had downed a few and the cop could obviously smell the whisky on my breath. When the questioning began to get a little interrogative, I said I was a journalist. Immediately the questioning stopped, and the cop asked me to get into a parked Maruti Gypsy and set off. I had no clue where he was headed till he asked me the house number. I realised I was on a familiar road and he soon stopped the Gypsy at my sister’s place! I wondered what would have happened if I had not disclosed I was a scribe.)

So as as we reached Kansi Simri, it seemed like any semblance of civilisation had been left far behind. Filth and squalor greeted us as we made our way to the village. My father’s palatial house was, itself, crumbling and I think it mirrored the general decay of the place. I mean if the ‘zamindar’ of the land was living in such a dilapidated surroundings, what could you expect from his village?

One evening I decided to go walkabout in the village and was even more appalled by what I saw. After nearly fifty years if this is what our villages had been reduced to, I thought there was something drastically wrong with our system. I could see the hunger and deprivation in the eyes of the naked children playing in the dirt. They say a hungry man is an angry man. How long, I wondered, before someone decided they had had enough and picked up a gun?

You could blame the politicians for fanning the flames, but do you think anyone would turn to violence as a means to an end, unless he realised that all other avenues were closed, and the gun was his last act of desperation. I asked a couple of villagers why they never approached the collector or the local leaders for help and they shrugged their shoulders. That said it all – complete apathy by the administration and a slow and hardening realisation that it was each man for himself and the devil take hindmost. Can you blame them for turning naxal?

They say people get the government they deserve. For years, people conned by his mantra of social justice, voted Laloo to power. All he did in the decade or so when he was CM was to fill his pockets and completely bastardize the post of the chief minister. If the people of Bihar vote Laloo and his cohorts back to power, they deserve no better than to wallow in the poverty and criminal way of life that had become a hallmark during his time.