| PICTURE SPEAK |
|Our February 2005 cover on Lalu Yadav |
Lalu Prasad Yadav has featured seven times on the India Today cover, the last one as recently as February. Over 15 years, if one word has summarised the man, it is that he is controversial. He treated Bihar like a personal fiefdom, thought nothing of installing his wife as a rubber-stamp chief minister and cared little about good governance or the constitutional process.
All through this, Lalu was treated with a mixture of horror and amusement in urban India. He was a convenient caricature of the plain-speaking, homespun, canny Bihari politician. Today as his style of functioning begins to affect the government in Delhi, we have discovered that rather than a caricature, he is a political force to contend with. Lalu has always been in the centre of controversy. Thanks to the 25 MPs he brought to the new Government, he was able to negotiate an important cabinet berth for himself. This despite being formally chargesheeted in seven cases, of which two are for criminal conspiracy. His presence provoked the Opposition's boycott of Parliament for virtually the entire budget session.
In one year, Lalu has done little for the Railways barring gimmicks like putting earthen pots back into circulation. Instead he has gone on to become the first cabinet minister to attack a constitutional authority, the election commissioner, and the first minister to openly fight with a cabinet colleague. Maybe we should not be surprised. The idea of collective responsibility is, after all, not a hallmark of Bihar politics or its politicians.
The UPA Government has been forced to give in to Lalu's demands because the numbers he brings to the ruling coalition are so vital. Once he made his position in Delhi secure, it was only inevitable that Lalu would turn his attention to Bihar, even though he had lost the mandate in the assembly polls. Today, the Assembly has been dismissed due to excessive horsetrading and the fact that no party could form a stable government, and fresh elections called in the state that cannot afford another poll, let alone another prolonged bout of Lalu-raj. Whether India will come under its influence is open to debate. There is no guarantee that Lalu will only go this far and no further.
Our cover story looks at how Lalu is still able to dictate Bihar's destiny and control the UPA Government by proxy. The story, which examines the Lalu method, its impact on the credibility of the Central Government and its potential fallout on national politics, was put together by our political bureaus in Delhi and Patna.
The well-known axiom that politics makes strange bedfellows is continuously validated in coalition politics. And nobody makes a stranger and more dangerous bedfellow than Lalu Prasad Yadav.