February 09, 2005

Of Godhra, Governance and Laloo's Swansong

R Radhakrishnan
Research Officer,

The timing for making the Banerjee Commission's interim report on the Godhra carnage public, followed by the histrionics of the Union Railway Minister and Bihar's strong man Laloo Yadav, could ignite a communal inferno. The release of the interim report has raised justifiable concerns as Laloo Yadav is the central figure in the Bihar elections and references to it has dented its credibility in wake of the attempts by Laloo Yadav to manufacture political capital over the Gujarat riots. His attempts to portray himself as the patron saint of secularism displays his callousness towards the populace by seeking to divert attention from his moral and political culpability of failing to adhere to the basic norms of governance.

Invoking the Interim Report of the Banerjee Commission during the assembly polls in Bihar is tantamount to playing the old game of vote bank politics. This is evident by Laloo Yadav's visit to Muslim-dominated areas and waving a copy of the report in the election rallies, and talking about punishing the guilty, which could hardly generate any kind of reassurance when the riot victims of the Bhagalpur riots in 1989 still wait for justice. The Bihar state government is yet to give compensation to the riot victims and the missing charge sheets from the police department is a telling tale of social justice in Bihar.

The issues confronting the Rashtriya Janata Dal government are manifold, which has made Bihar a functioning anarchy.

Firstly, the proclivity of the likes of Pappu alias Rajan Yadav, a Member of Parliament, in subverting the rule of law.

Secondly the reign of the armed gangs which have a relatively free run to threaten the lives and property of the people in the country side.

Thirdly, the problem of exodus from the state to other parts of the country in search of employment and basic necessities, which had stoked parochial sentiments in these areas. Moreover there has not been any notable change in the last 15 years in the brutalization of the marginalized sections of society particularly the Dalits, with private armies and naxalites calling the shots.

Ironically the Election Commission had severely reprimanded Laloo Yadav after it found him guilty of serious violations of the model code of conduct by distributing money to voters.

The situation in Bihar evokes both outrage and amusement when Laloo Yadav, the Railway Minister, tries to ensure governance by symbolic stunts like the introduction of Khullars (earthen cups) in the trains, which was presented as a vindication of Gandhian values and the celebration of 'rustic lifestyle' in a changing and globalizing India. But the fact that terror continues to haunt passengers from armed gangs and cases of unruly behavior of security personnel on certain train routes, suggests a very different picture.

One can argue that local politics should not be seen in isolation from national politics and that mocking at Bihar's social condition has become a refrain for India's anglicized middle class to complain about. Nevertheless questions about the governance in Bihar and norms of accountability cannot be brushed aside, with Laloo Yadav at the helm of affairs for over 15 years. A fair assessment of the state of governance under Laloo Yadav's leadership should transcend the much debated social phenomenon of the rise of the backward castes in Indian politics as there have been numerous examples of its utilisation for electoral purposes cutting across various political parties. Hence the politics of backwardness cannot serve as an alibi for bad governance and failure to deliver the goods.

With elections round the corner and polarization occurring on religious grounds communal harmony deserves greater attention. In this context, Laloo's war cry and contrived passion for secularism remains a source of concern. It must be noted that the judiciary has emerged in India as the conscience keeper in the wake of a dissolute political system and the much abused state apparatus in delivering social justice. Secularism and protection of rights of all sections of society are very significant issues which the Indian state and civil society have to seriously negotiate with. At the same time it cannot afford to be impervious to lawlessness, abject poverty and deprivation, which is prevalent in several parts of the country. But the larger question remains whether issues of governance and security can be encapsulated in empty promises and false piety, as the modern Nero of Bihar would like us to believe.

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