The funeral of three-time chief minister Jagannath Mishra marks an important moment in the political saga of Bihar. Either it has proved its credentials as a peace-loving but wilfully misunderstood state. Or it has become identical with its stereotype — that of a place where nothing works, and where politics and corruption have gutted everything, and may have even siphoned off the powder from .303 cartridges. Mishra’s funeral pyre was to be lit in the presence of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, accompanied by a 22-gun salute. The kindling caught, but all the 22 rifles produced flashes in the pan, creating an embarrassment unprecedented in the state’s history.
Well into the Nineties, Bihar was one of India’s most gun-happy states where it was possible to buy, rent or borrow illegal firearms on shockingly easy terms. The handmade arsenal extended to “chain guns”, bizarre automatic weapons fashioned out of the metal tubes of a bicycle frame, and actuated by hauling a bicycle chain through the breech. The state teemed with heavily armed militias representing caste and political interests, which often garnered more headlines than the government. Now, the consecutive failure of 22 firearms suggests that this unique legacy is lost.
Of course, these were police weapons, and the Bihar Police were a meme before the internet was even born. But at least they have something to put in the breech, unlike their peers in UP, who wade into encounters armed with empty magazines and raw courage, uttering the onomatopoeic war cry of, “Thain! Thain!” Besides, throughout his extremely successful life — barring the unpleasantness of the fodder scam conviction — Jagannath Mishra had kept his powder dry. He did not need the colonial hangover of a gun salute for a cue, as he bowed off the stage of life.