Bihar’s weapons of mass deconstruction and PM’s sense of humour

INDIAN Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, I have always suspected, lacks a sense of humour. Last week provided painful confirmation of this disturbing fact. Just when the slugfest between his ministers, Laloo Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan, was getting to a gripping stage; just when the battlelines at Patna were being nicely etched out in ether with the help of the most colourful political vocabulary we’ve heard in a long while; just when we were going to be privy to the full facts of the mafia links of both the honourable ministers and learn about their undisclosed mountains of wealth, there goes the Prime Minister — like a prim school principal — telling both men to behave like responsible ministers of his government.

By Pamela Philipose

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Published: Tue 7 Dec 2004, 11:20 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:56 AM

What worries me is that this unfair prime ministerial crackdown goes against all the tenets of good governance. Is the Prime Minister not interested in increasing the transparency and accountability of his administration? Would we have come to know about Paswan’s shopping expedition for cranes if it were not for Laloo’s ministerial investigations? And just when we had forgotten all that political ingestion of nutrients required to feed Bihar’s poor, dumb cattle, Paswan has reminded us that the Railway Minister was a ‘chara chor’ (fodder thief). How much more transparent and accountable can a government get?

This is promising stuff. Okay, it may not reach the acetylene blowtorch heights of the Subramanian Swamy-Ram Jethmalani exchange some years ago. That face-off figures as my all-time favourite. One termed the other ‘intemperate’, reckless, disreputable and undesirable’, and the other came back by terming his opponent a ‘diseased insect, a dangerous megalomaniac, a virulent viper’. Which led the other to demand that his opponent be thrown out of his ministerial office. Which, in turn, provoked the comment that the other is ‘a diseased insect that needed to be crushed and carefully incinerated since it is not good enough to throw him into the gutter which is his natural habitat’. Phew, strong stuff! Words that make for good, transparent-and-accountable, blood-and-thunder politics. My hunch is that the Laloo-Paswan dialogue could have attained these purple heights/depths if they had been left unhindered by spoilsports like Manmohan Singh.

I mean, these things take time. Any political exchange needs the space to build up. Like a Bhimsen Joshi delineation of a raag, it will have to meander a bit before it acquires the right focus and flow, texture and timbre, until that climactic moment is reached when it gets the enemy suitably wound up to respond in like register. These things operate, in fact, on a measure-for-measure basis. As Paswan himself explained last week, his ‘innate decency’ should in no way be considered his weakness. "If anyone insults me, hurls charges against me, I will not take it lying down," he says. Can anybody with a sense of self-worth disagree with the man?

My worry is that with the Prime Minister’s misplaced intervention, this jugalbandi will taper off. It is troubling to hear Laloo addressing trivial issues like railway employees’ welfare and Paswan announcing steel regulatory bodies, and the like, when these two gentlemen should have been left in peace to expound on each other’s parentage for the nation’s general edification. As it is, these are disappointing times. In the west, the country’s most famous fraternal pair --certainly its most prosperous — appears to have tired of sending SMS messages to each other through their employees.

In the north, Uma Bharati has actually apologised for her daughter-on-Diwali-night tantrums. In the south, M Karunanidhi is in indifferent health and Jayalalitha is otherwise engaged. And now comes the tragic news that the Patliputra battles in the east are to be put on hold. Where are we, as a nation, headed, if everybody begins to pull his/her punches and passes the mithai, instead of the ammunition, around?

It can only be hoped that things will get back on even keel as the Bihar elections draw closer and cries of ‘Jab tak samose mein aloo rahega/Tab tak Bihar mein Laloo rahega’ and ‘Upar asman/neeche Paswan’ rend the air. Then, perhaps, Biharís limitless stock of verbal venom will get another much deserved airing, God and Manmohan Singh willing.

© Indian Express

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