Have you seen how well the Indian Railways has been doing recently? It seems that under Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s stewardship, the ministry’s financial performance is on a strong northerly course – 15% earnings growth in the first 6 months of the current fiscal, fares down (by a whisker, but still, who’s heard of deflation in these times), innovative ticketing and other services etc. Amazing, isn’t it? To think that this was the man being reviled not so long ago for his import substituting ways (khadi, khullar and lassi for cotton, plastic and Coke). More importantly, isn’t this the same man who systematically ran Bihar to the ground through his unbroken stint in power since 1990?
What has changed? Lets dispense with the easy explanations first: this is not because of him, it is in spite of him (churlish); he’s taking lessons at the Kenneth Lay school of accounting (speculative – and churlish again); he’s riding the wave generated by the labors of Nitish and Ram Vilas (really, now – pot, kettle and all that). Any other? No? Well then, brace yourself – for here’s the secret: Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav is nothing but the quintessential Bihari! Yes, it is as simple as that: take us out of the state and we become world-beaters while within it, we can’t organize ourselves to even get access to the basic security of law. Yes, he did run the state into the ground (not that he had a very high starting point in any case – M/s Jagganath Mishra et al had started the fire a long before Mr. Yadav was a relevant force) but that’s only because he was within the state then: see how well he’s doing once he’s broken free!
But in this explanation lies a lesson (actually, two of them) for us, right? First, do not elect him back into power in Bihar! For the notion of him replicating his Railways’ successes in Bihar is absurd – forget about doing it, he doesn’t even want to do anything of the sort (it is too difficult, he doesn’t know where to begin undoing what he’s done and there’s no percentage in that sort of thing anyway). And second, do not fool yourself into believing that M/s Nitish Kumar & Co. (they of the “India Shining” team) will bring a new dose of competence because they performed “well” when in Delhi (same logic).
The path to redemption is a steeper, rockier one, I’m afraid. Democracy and legislation have overshot and need to be pulled back by institutions and implementation to restore equilibrium on a number of counts. It will take a lot of doing and the achievement in putting Railways on a growth path doesn’t somehow seem enough of a propitiation for digging the hole in which our state is today. It will happen one day – surely, for it involves 1 in 12 citizens and is just to big to be ignored for long – but for now, don’t hold your breath.