February 05, 2005

To judges with sense

Two politicians the Indian middle-class -- me included -- love to hate: Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife, Rabri Devi, of Bihar. To this middle-class, these two stand for everything that we see as wrong with our politics. The corruption, nepotism, favouritism, indifference to development -- and finally, even the assumption that they are stupid country bumpkins who are incompetent to run anything, let alone a major state: Lalu and Rabri, we think, stand for all that.

Right on all counts, except the last. Lalu and Rabri are many things, but what they decidedly are not is stupid. I've always felt that Lalu is our country's shrewdest politician, keenly aware that his political fortunes are not determined by the contempt of the middle-class and the bloggerati, but by his constituency in Bihar. He knows better than most just how to win elections there; and even now, when exit polls show Lalu trailing in the current Bihar Assembly elections, I'm willing to bet that the final results will return him and Rabri to power.

I've also always felt that with the supercilious contempt we like to throw at Lalu ("scum of the earth" and "burden on the earth" are two more earthy epithets I've run across), we not only underestimate him, we also underestimate his voters. We undermine any chance of ever getting rid of him. Because Lalu laughs at our contempt, and then uses it to win his next election.

But there are also times when people, anxious to damn the pair with everything at hand, throw stuff at them that only ends up as egg on their own faces. Most recently, there was the widely-circulated photograph of Lalu and Rabri on a couch. This was taken, the circulaters told us righteously, during the singing of the national anthem. That the couple were sitting, they told us more righteously still, showed their immense disrespect for the anthem and our country.

And this resulted in a positive flood of righteous -- always righteous -- invective: Lalu and Rabri should be "flogged in public", no they should be "stoned to death in public", it is "the height of arrogance", it "kills my soul", it shows L&R's "ignorance and shame" -- on and on. One of these invective-mongers took off on another tangent. Disrespect for the national anthem was rampant, he said: witness the time he found a gathering singing the anthem before their function, witness how they sang it with only two "Jaya He"s in the penultimate line, not three! Horrors!

And naturally, somebody in Indore thought it fit to take this to court. (L&R on the couch, not the two Jaya He's -- though who knows, maybe someone is trying that as well). Today's news is that a magistrate called Narendra Jain threw out the case, pointing out two things.

One: sitting during the playing of the national anthem is not prima facie a crime.

Two: the photograph does not establish that the national anthem was even being sung at the time.

Join me in being grateful that our judiciary, at any rate, still has people with sense.

And the fellows who not only specialise in unfounded insinuation, but like to pretend that respect comes from merely standing; not only that, but are outraged by two instead of three; not only that, but call for people who don't stand to be stoned?

Well, pay no attention to them. Just like Lalu and Rabri don't.

7 comments:

Sriram said...

Law and order, as far as I know, is getting worse every day in India (at least the South). I am not just talking about headline makers like murders and burglary; people are losing trust with each other and everyone - doctors, lawyers, engineers - is looked at with suspicion. Our justice system is so overloaded and backlogged that going to the courts is no longer a real option, at least for civil cases.

With all this, is it really necessary for our law enforcement to try and micro-prosecute people's actions? Why should it be necessary to stand up, in attention, when the national anthem is played? Is it a crime to be tired? Or may be I want to protest some recent policy decision. This assumption that all citizens are minions of the almighty state, drives me crazy.

A famous actor (Balakrishna) shoots guys in his house, his wife and servants clean up the evidence and he is acquited due to "lack of evidence." I haven't seen too many people getting upset about that. On the other hand, Laloo was sitting! Oh my God, let us lynch him!!

As a country, our priorities are screwed up!!!

Amrit said...

I couldn't care less if Lalu and Rabri stand, sit, prostrate, or even jump off a cliff while the national anthem is being played. The point is, by being amused at his antics, we only play in his hands. This is what he wants us to do -- continue laughing at him while he does his own thing first in Bihar and then in the Rail Mantralay. It's very easy to make fun of the Lalu-likes while one is far away. Just imagine what will happen if he becomes the PM and his bro-in-law Sadhu Yadav becomes something like a home monister (o is not a typo). Believe me, our electorate is capable of orchestrating such a unbelievable act.

Our apathy towards us and the society around us gives the Lalus the space they require. I wrote a post on this psychology at http://www.writingcave.com/archives/2005/02/05/88/.

Sanketh said...

You said it Sr. !!
He is easily the shrewdest clown in town. I have almost given up being outraged!! I feel he is picked on while the rest of the lot get away with murder .. literally!
The fact that I don't see my countrymen outraged after everything that happened at Godhra and all the scandals everywhere, tells me somewhere within us we have made peace with the "scum" around us. :)
Love reading your pieces.

Sanketh (class of 2004)

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Dilip D'Souza said...

Amrit,

You say: Believe me, our electorate is capable of orchestrating such a unbelievable act.Couldn't agree more. After all, we did elect one Vajpayee to PM, one Modi to CM, one Sajjan Kumar and one Tytler to MP, need I go on?

You're right: by being amused by him, we play right into his hands. He's not complaining!

Ullekh said...

Hi Dilip,

As regards Lalu, I too refuse to believe the prophecies of his political demise in this Assembly election. Maybe there are chinks in his armour and some mild corrosion of his rustic humour, but there's nobody armed enough to take him on or beat him at his ultimate game -- the magic of working the crowds. We just have whippersnappers and no real contenders even for the chief minister's post (against Rabri, forget Lalu :-)))). Though I join the rest of the Great Indian Middle Class in condemning Lalu for several odds, I don't want to fall prey to an uncritical acceptance of spin as fact. I don't want to see him as the only one who ruined Bihar because Lalu has done nothing to criminalise politics or bureaucratise corruption more than many of his "illustrious" Congress rulers have done in the past. Of course, Lalu deserves greater blame because he squandered away the chance to put Bihar in the fast lane of growth which he could have done better than all his predecessors. He had the charisma, popular support to do whatever he wanted. He chose to follow in the footsteps of those previous chief ministers than go off the beaten track. The real "Making of Lalu" (with apologies to Shankarshan Thakur) would have been "The Making of Bihar" had India's most cunning politician alive wanted it to be. Unfortunately, his growth was indirectly proportional to Bihar's. In that context, despite all the social uplift and at-least-marginal empowerment of the backward classes in the state --- that can never be overlooked --- Lalu appears to be a catalyst that stopped acting halfway.

And, ha ha ha ... I am sure one will have to "beat your brains out" to detect those parts that admire Lalu in secret. I am just kidding :-))

Dilip D'Souza said...

Ullekh, you're right on the button. Lalu wasn't what destroyed Bihar; yet he also had the chance to lift Bihar and he instead sank it further into the grime.

And kidding or not, you really won't have to beat my brains out because I'll tell you right here right now what I admire about Lalu, and not in secret: his political savvy. Politicians, in the end, have got to be politicians, and Lalu is a masterful one.