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.