Thursday, September 21, 2006

Lalu in Wonderland

Railway to Jersey gai ke tarah hai, jitna dhyan doge, utna hee doodh milega

- Lalu Prasad Yadav, in IIM-A

Not maybe the most memorable quote you want to store in your diary. But then being no expert in the field of Bovines, I guess I should reserve my comments on the Jersey cow and stick to the Railways and Lalu, arguably India’s most colourfully articulate politician (Down the Vindhyas, former Kerala CM , Late E K Nayanar is a close competitor for his memorable one-liners like where are there women, there will be rape). His visit to the IIM-A has generated enough media noise on how a rustic shepherd politician from the hinterland is giving lectures in management to India’s creamy layer of MBAs.

It’s been a classic Bollywood story for a small time man who entered politics, at the same time as Nitish Kumar and others, enthused by Jayaprakash Narayan’s call to fight Indira Gandhi’s political hegemony. He later on became the self-proclaimed “Poor Man’s Messiah” before getting mired in a flurry of scandals (Thanks to him, fodder is no longer a rural item).

He cocked a snook at democracy by getting his wife to take over his reins as he cooled his heels in jail. His popularity has still held him in good stead, though not the same way as earlier. His latest avatar as “Management Guru” is of course, undoubtedly his most successful one as critics have suddenly woken up wondering what is it that Lalu has done to put the Railways on track.

The Railways turnaround is a big story and Lalu’s become a management guru, teaching how to revive ailing companies (How about Bihar now?). There are, of course, divided opinions on whether this has anything to do with Lalu’s management skills or due to other reasons? Some have suggested that the economic boom has fostered greater train utility and that it was a case of being at the right place at the right time but there are also pro-Lalu versions.

It’s quite possible but then if it’s the minister in charge who receives brickbats in case things goes wrong, should we hide the bouquets if things go on the right track. To be honest, I am not very sure whether he has changed things (considering his track record of democraticising Bihar) but maybe I should not pass a judgment without actually finding out the truth. But then where are the media stories on what Lalu has actually done?

There’s a certain class hypocrisy when the only reporting that is done about him is his “starched kurta pyjama”, “outlandish language” and other not so proud mannerisms. Every time he appears on screen, the media is hell bent upon playing up his “buffoon” image. Be critical about him and I’m sure that there are any enough points to score doing that.

But reducing a man to mere caricature and making fun of him at a personal level does no credit to the NDTVs and CNN-IBNs. This is not a Lalu-specific mentality but a kind of reporting which measures people on their “so-called” civilizational attributes and blissfully ignores the actual work done by the person. Maybe the English speaking media just does not enjoy the other class doing something that the elite struggle to achieve.

Indian democracy, unlike the American one, is a very grass roots democracy. The people who vote are those who are on the sidelines but find no voice in the non-vernacular media. Wasn’t “Shining India” a triumph of our democracy when the entire press, out of touch with rural India and their aspirations, wrote off the Congress and unilaterally anointed the BJP as the victor?

There’s a certain arrogance in the media which fails to understand the pulse of the nation and paints itself in the colours of the rich and the famous. Slum displacement in the name of development is in “everyone’s interest” but try shifting the people of Cuff Parade and the same story becomes a story of human oppression (and ofcourse, an interview with the ever dependable Mahesh Bhatt).

CNN-IBN interviewed a few IIM-A students (in their early 20s) who were part of Prof. Lalu’s sessions and asked them if they were interested to join Indian Railways. One of them quipped that he would not be interested to join as a bureaucrat but was willing to join if he were invited to be a part of the top management!!! Yes, ofcourse how modest can you get with a tag like IIM-A (is it Arrogance) plaguing you? No stories have come till now of what they think of Lalu’s speech and whether his sound bytes are a value addition to jargons like “core competency” and “SWOT”.

Has the “poster boy” of political entertainment actually grown up or is it just another media entertainment story??? Whatever it is, it is a demonstration of the power of democracy where English savvy media is reduced to pour in tributes to a rustic pastoral leader, albeit reluctantly.

Hopefully, Lalu’s management gyan will give all of us fodder, sorry, food for thought….


  1. Nice article.

    No matter what media and others have to say about Laloo, there is a certain degree of charisma in him. I wonder if it is the language in which he speaks in or the dress that he wears or both the things put together, that draws people's attention. But then most of the politicians, perhaps, prefer the same uniform. Is it then the style of his dialogue delivery that sets him apart? In India we have some great speakers in Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Somnath Chatterjee, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Omar Abdullah and others, but no one perhaps matches the presentation skills that Laloo has. He can reach out to the audience in a way that makes the audience feel that he is one of them. Also, no else uses humour the way he does. Leaving aside the scams, his conduct makes many people relate to him... like his way of sipping tea from the dish instead of the cup, uncut hair coming out of his ears...something that is so prevalent in the society something that we get to see prety often when we are out on the roads.

    I wonder if he does it deliberately or he does not get time to pamper himself or he just chooses to ingore and take the same in his stride. Whatever it is, but he happens to be one of the most 'happening' person in India. There have been many who had rocked the stage but are nowehere to be seen..but no one rocks like our own Laloo.

    I appreciate that you have touched on the point that media chooses to behave in a certain manner with him. It is for everyone to judge whether it is right or wrong, and I need not get into passing my own judgement on the same. But the good thing is that most of the apt replies made to the media personnel also comes from this man. I remember the day when Mr. Laloo Prasad was celebrating his victory in Rajya Sabha polls. He had organised a grand party at his Patna residence. The media was also there, and there was a live telecast that night. One of the news anchor asked him, "Laloo have ...aap Rajya Sabha have won the election...kaisa lag raha aapko...what are your reactions?" To this Laloo Yadav replies,"See gentleman, you please talk to me in Hindi or English, I ll be comfortable in answering any language that you are comfortable please repeat the question."And one could have seen the face of the news anchor turning pale. I do not know for sure, if any other politician is capable of giving such a befitting reply to ensure that a media guy falls short of words and takes his or her face off the camera...and he is not the only media guy to have fallen flat on their face. Also he is not the only guy who has this "hey I am from media' attitude. There are quite a few. One for sure is Mr. Arnab from CNNIBN or Times Now ( I aint that sure).

    Couple of weeks back, Mr Arnab was anchoring a new programme that had invited this gentleman who was running a 'Slum Tourism' company in India. The topic of discussion was whether it is correct to promote slums in India. Incidentally, Mr Arnab's team had also got hold of an European tourist who had paid money to the guys running the 'slum tourism' company. However, I was taken aback by the fact that Mr. Arnab had already made a judgement that this was wrong. He had his reasons for that, and I am not discounting those. But he would have done a much better job had he not seen the issue with a jaundiced eye, and had conducted the entire session in a manner that makes people think, that inspires people to do some soul searching and would have given some people a food for thought. His questions reflected that he had already made his decision to term them as criminals. The European lady gave some very nice answers, that towards the end stopped Mr Arnab from getting too judgemental on the entire thing.

    Huh...coming back to Laloo well he is an entertainer, a politician who has finally started to contribute to the society in a very meaningful way. About the IIM guys remarks...well we know they are good, they need not show they are good...


  2. Very well expressed post. I feel that along with the Media, IIM has also got carried away. His role in the whole affair should be validated before he is granted such an honor. One should not forget that he made a mockery of democracy in Bihar by installing Rabri

  3. For the last two years the Financial position of the Railways have improved well beyond anybody’s expectation. Political parties & politicians are claiming that the good performance is due to their ruling & governance. IIMs in India are interested to know the reasons behind the very good performance & taking interviews with the people directly connected with Railway working. I do not know what reasons they have given. A manager can show improvement in the working by adopting short term & long term policy. But in the Govt. organization it very difficult to show improvement in performance within a short time. Even if someone claims such improvement, it will not last long. Whether a policy is good or bad, the effect of it will show only four or five years after implementation ..This applies to Indian Railways also. So it is difficult to pinpoint the person behind the over- all improvement.The following are the reasons:-

    1) After the set back in global Industry following 9/11 terrorist attack in USA, the industries started picking up slowly and we are able to see the result now. It is a gradual progress. There is no magic about it. India’s industrial growth is good. Naturally, the movement of raw materials& finished goods have gone up considerably. Railways’ performance is dependent upon the freight loading.

    2) At the time of Independence, Railways were carrying more goods than road transport. In the seventies & eighties Railways’ share had come down to below 30%.This is due to cut- throat competition from road transport, who were able to transport goods without pilferage, loss & by door delivery.

    3) By introducing container service Railways' were able to arrest loss & pilferage of goods and to some extent, door delivery.

    4) By electrification of all major routes Indian Railways are able to run the trains with out increasing the freight & passenger tariff even though oil price is more than 60US$..Indian Railway is also manufacturing BioDiesel & running Diesel Locos. I hope a time will come when Indian Railway does not have to depend on Diesel oil to run Locos & power cars if the Govt. vigorously pursue cultivation of Jatropha plants for making BioDiesel.

    All the above mentioned planning and implementation cannot be done with in a short time . Some of the plannings done in sixties and in eighties have fully borne fruit only now.The on- going project of gauge conversion in Railways will not help to improve the financial condition of Railways unless loading of goods is increased due to industrialization in those areas.To get an overall improvement in coaching stock & Locos it is suggested to bifurcate Railways' production units & operation instead of increasing Divisions & Railway Zones.

    T. C.Govindan

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