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‘‘2004 is the year of development.’’ This one doesn’t come from the usual suspects of the South, but Laloo Prasad Y...

Written by VARGHESE K GEORGE | Patna |
March 10, 2004

‘‘2004 is the year of development.’’ This one doesn’t come from the usual suspects of the South, but Laloo Prasad Yadav.

In January, the Bihar government announced an ambitious plan—electrify all villages by 2007 and houses, by 2012. ‘‘We are going to do four things for development. Bijili tho aaj shuru ho gaya. Doosara, sadak ka. All roads of Bihar will be repaired in three months,’’ Laloo unveiled his vision, though he never spelt out the other two ‘things’, at the work inauguration of a new transmission network in Hajipur.

Election rhetoric? Possibly, but then Laloo never thought he needed development rhetoric to win elections. He is one man who has translated every deprivation of the state into a political opportunity. Beyond Patna city there is hardly electricity anywhere. That’s one reason the kerosene lantern is his party RJD’s election symbol. Travelling over 200 km to Siwan or Motihari or Bhagalpur from Patna by road takes eight to 12 hours, and Laloo would blame it on the Centre. ‘‘Tum bachcha hei. Development ke liye koi vote deta hei?,’’ Laloo used to snub anyone who asked him about development. Election after election, he proved his point.

Laloo’s disinterest in matters of governance and ‘‘IT-fyT’’ has been genuine. But his recent development concerns are an indication of Bihar’s political pulse which none senses better than Laloo. Caste has not faded away, but there is more than it, however peripherally, in this election—development. The string of Union government projects being started in the state in high-profile functions got the people to sit back and think. In the last six months, the Prime Minister, the deputy prime minister and the President visited Bihar twice each to inaugurate huge rail projects, power plants etc.

Rail Minister Nitish Kumar who doesn’t stand a chance to confront Laloo’s caste combine has successfully projected himself as the Vikas Purush of Bihar. ‘‘Laloo is the central factor of Bihar politics. Those who support him and those who oppose him—this is the divide. And our development works are visible and people will respond by supporting us in the elections,’’ says Kumar, who scraped through in the last Parliament elections. ‘‘They have begun to talk of development,’’ he says of Laloo.

 
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Ignoring this may be costly for Laloo, and he knows it best. The second trigger in Bihar’s B-S-P (bijli-sadak-pani) debate is its highly mobile migrants—who return home with stories of ‘IT-FyT’’ in Bangalore, shopping malls of Gurgaon, Metro rail of Delhi etc. These youngsters are not always impressed by Laloo’s theatrics and caste consolidation.

‘‘Lalooji has given us samman (honour). Now he should give us vikas,’’ a young Yadav of Chapra—where Laloo will fight the Parliament election, says. ‘‘In Bihar these basic issues of development rarely concerned the public, because they were not aware of the deprivation. Now more and more people realise what they are missing,’’ says Shaibal Gupta of Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), Patna.

Defeat of the Congress governments in the recent elections also alerted Laloo. He would like some semblance of development in the state he has been ruling for more than a decade. In early 2005, or may be even earlier, he will have to seek re-election in the state.

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