Lalu Prasad’s Jungle Raj

Lalu Prasad’s Jungle Raj

The terrible memories of growing up in a Bihar where politicians, criminals and policemen colluded to plunder the common citizens.

What do you call a police officer who commits an illegality and then goes on to become the CBI Joint Director (Policy)? Well, you call him a “Bihari”! Of course, if you have some good sense, you won’t call him that to his face. All police officers retaliate; some more than the others. (Note: The double quote around Bihari is there for a reason, which we will reveal in good time.)

So, why are we talking about the police when everyone else is busy talking of Bihar’s politics and its politicians? It’s because they are the two sides of the same coin. And I am not just talking etymology; though let’s explore that for a minute too.

Etymologically speaking, the term “police” was borrowed by the English from the French, who themselves borrowed it from the Greek word “politeia”, which is the source of “police”, “policy” and “politicks” (The spelling used by Adam Smith in his lectures serves us rather well in the present context. Poli“ticks” indeed!).

The police, therefore, simply serve as pawns in the strategic game of kings— a funded functionary of the State. Its role, therefore, is important; for when the State becomes a jungle, the police becomes the beast.

Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the jungle called Bihar!

I was seven when Lalu Prasad Yadav rose to power in 1990. To be perfectly honest, I don’t recollect much about the potent potentate (pun intended), except that all was not well in the kingdom. All the little girls of the neighbourhood—including me—were promptly locked up. Of course, to us, this intolerable imprisonment only brought tears and tantrums. (Why was I being punished, wondered many a little girl.)

As time went by, we got used to living with our Cinderellian curfews, resigned to our fates—our freedoms forfeited to the funny fiend. Then came the jailbreak. My family and I relocated to Delhi in the spring of 1991. My dad was a journalist and it was his time to play the national field (Although, now I wonder if it was to protect his “pride”—not the abstract noun, the collective that is—the animal kind).

The cubs were finally allowed to roam the roads. The cherubs were exuberant as they laughed and played and built sandcastles in the school sand-pit. (In fact, every evening my mother would empty my little brother’s pockets—he was five back then. And every evening, all she found in his pocket was little globs of sand. You see, he was simply trying to bring the castle back home!) It was picture perfect. And then tragedy struck. It was 1994. We were back in the jungle—vacationing (yeah, I know…ironic!)—when the animals attacked in broad daylight.

Although my dad miraculously escaped the assassination attempt, it left its indelible imprint—shards of shrapnel embedded in his flesh. The 11-year-old in me matured overnight. But before I could heave a sigh of relief, there was yet another attack; once again in broad daylight. This time, the target was my mother, and the witness (to the crime) was a hapless, helpless, hopeless police officer. But the pawn would not dare—it could not dare—strike back at its master! But our persecution did not end there.

We were forcibly dispossessed of our rightful possessions, yet again at the hands of the powerful police. But there was no justice and no messiah! I watched, helpless, as my parents sank into deep wells of depression. The doctors didn’t know what ailed them. But I knew. It was finally time for me to learn the laws of the wild, which I soon did. Welcome to my world—the world where we sleep with the serpents, we walk with the wolves, we eat with the Eagles, and we cosy up to a corpse.

Trust me, for I do not exaggerate. Even God was conspicuously absent from Lalu Land, where there was only one difference between the cops and the criminals: the former wore uniforms. In beleaguered and beaten Bihar, there wasn’t much hope for the ordinary citizen. And justice might have been on another planet! In fact, if you wanted justice, you had to go to the King and his Kongs! Most, of course, didn’t dare! Of course, if you still wonder the role the cops played in turning Bihar into the Holy State of Crime, Corruption, and Conspiracy, here’s a first-hand account of a kidnapped victim.

Vikram Ram, a farmer in Bihar, was forced to spend 12 months in captivity—as reported in an article in India Today, October 1997. The farmer stated, rather matter-of-factly: “We prefer dealing directly with kidnappers. The police charge their fee.” That’s right, the police in Bihar had turned into a clan of hyenas, feasting on the rotting flesh of prey.

Even international media reported the strange scheme of things that was now synonymous with the state of Bihar, which is evident by an April 2010 New York Times report, which eloquently concurs:

For decades the sprawling state of Bihar, flat and scorching as a griddle, was something between a punch line and a cautionary tale…Criminals could count on the police for protection, not persecution. Highwaymen ruled the shredded roads, and kidnapping was one of the state’s most profitable businesses… Its government, led by politicians who used divisive identity politics to entrench their rule, was so corrupt that it required a newly coined phrase: the Jungle Raj.

In the Jungle Raj, plunder was profitably pursued by many—including the police and the politicians. We discover this peculiar connection between police and plunder in a pamphlet called The Law that Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850), the French economist, statesman and author, published in June 1850. This connection, he ironically called “Legal Plunder”.

Now, there’s your oxymoron! Bastiat wrote The Law right after the French Revolution of 1848, popularly known as the February Revolution when France was rapidly turning to complete socialism. Since then, The Law has become one of the most important treatises on law, that professes that the only reason law exists is to preserve life, liberty and property (of man). Unfortunately, that’s not often the case.

In the words of Bastiat,

The law perverted! And the police powers of the State perverted along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but was made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law became the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law (itself) became guilty of the evils it was supposed to punish.

While talking of legal plunder, he concluded:

Sometimes it places all this ceremony of magistracy, police, gendarmerie, and prisons, at the service of the plunderer, and treats the plundered party, when he defends himself, as the criminal…In a word, there is legal plunder. But how is it to be distinguished? Very easily. See whether the law takes from some persons that which belongs to them, to give to others what does not belong to them. See whether the law performs, for the profit of one citizen, and, to the injury of others.

The same sentiment was echoed by Adam Smith:

The first and chief design of every system of government is to maintain justice; to prevent the members of a society from encroaching on one another’s property, or seizing what is not their own.

Bastiat attributed legal plunder to two basic reasons—naked greed and misconceived philanthropy. For when plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time, they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and also a moral code that glorifies it. Don’t believe so?

Read the Constitutional Amendments—the 44th Amendment in particular. The Constitution (Forty-fourth Amendment) Act of 1978 eliminated your right (and mine) to acquire, hold and dispose of property. That’s right—the “right to property” is no longer a fundamental right. Thanks to the Janata Party! Of course, not that the Congress didn’t have its share of fun in rendering citizens powerless.

In fact, it was the Congress under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that really got the ball rolling. The Congress Forum for Socialist Action (CFSA) under the fiery “Young Turks”, and the Central Steering Committee unequivocally called for a Constitutional amendment to get rid of our property rights.

The resolution categorically demanded:

The Congress Forum for Socialist Action feels that some amendments to the Constitution are immediately called forth, if our election pledges are to be implemented and if an advance towards social goal is to be made. The Steering Committee suggests the following amendments to the Indian Constitution: Articles 14, 19 and 31 be amended to empower the State to prescribe any ceiling on property of any description and to take over the property in excess of such ceiling without payment of any compensation.

That’s right—Indira Gandhi paid her homage to Bastiat by demonstrating legal plunder in all its socialist glory, while unsuspecting people lost what was theirs in the blink of an eye. Although, while the Centre played the “philanthropy” card in 1978 to explain its actions, it was pure unadulterated greed that propelled the police to transform into a self-proclaimed quasi-judicial Mogul court.

When the men in khaki were there to settle property disputes, who needed the civil courts? Of course, since they weren’t the “actual” judiciary, the law didn’t mean much to them. Decrees went in favour of one who favoured them in return…of course, it wasn’t a bribe—mind you, it was a Xenium. In case, you’re wondering what the word means, it’s called nazrana in Urdu—a gift given in homage.

Overnight, the police prospered and the subjects suffered. Oh, isn’t the principle of equality diabolically simple:

If you can’t make all your subjects rich, make them equal; make them all poor.

There, now, you have your socialism—all people equal! While the police and the politicians live happily ever after, outside the Bell curve. Then something strange happened in 2005—we Biharis kicked out the king! That’s right—the poor thing even had to celebrate Chhath puja in Delhi. The shattered subjects of the state had decided to forget their petty squabbles and unite in a singular cause—oust Lalu Prasad Yadav. After all, we were sick of being assaulted, robbed and killed—all the time. (Trust me, after a while, it just stops being fun.) And for the first time in a long time, the electorate beat caste politics to vote JD(U) and BJP into power, with Nitish Kumar becoming chief minister.

To be honest, things did change. I realized it one day on Patna railway station. I was going home for the winter break. When I got off the train and looked around for the congregation that usually came to greet me, I saw no one! To say I was alarmed would be an understatement.

I immediately called up my father, who answered the call promptly and asked me, in a voice that clearly betrayed his bewilderment: “What happened? Why are you calling?” My reaction changed from confusion to outrage: “Why am I calling?” I shrieked, “Why aren’t you here?” There was an “oh” on the other end, and then my father simply remarked: “Nitish is the CM now. Hail a taxi and come home.”

A father’s indifference said more than a newspaper ever would: the beasts were no longer roaming the roads. They had finally been locked away. The erring police officers were brought to task. The same officers who were doing their jobs in absentia were finally back on the roads and in their stations. Circulars were issued by senior police officials, which warned of stern action if a police officer was found playing “judge” in a civil dispute. But then, old habits die hard (after all, Xenium is more addictive than Ecstasy).

So, some officers still erred, but they were no longer forgiven. In fact, one such erring officer’s name has surfaced here in an FIR submitted to the CJM Court (in Pataliputra Case No 263 of 2015). What’s shocking was to learn that the officer now serves as the Joint Director (Policy), CBI, and was in fact, decorated with the President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service in 2014, (I am deliberately withholding his name, for I do not wish to single him out, but then, it’s a matter of public record now. I’m sure, it won’t be under wraps for long. However, before I move along, let me now reveal the double quotes in the opening statement. You see, the erring officer that I talked about is not a Bihari by birth…he, in fact, is a Sikh, who had joined the Bihar cadre in 1990. I guess is that it’s another case of the “bad apple paradigm”—destructive behaviours are dangerously contagious!)

Anyway, moving back to the government, it was the “development” agenda that Nitish Kumar pursued with a single-minded dedication that was the prime reason for his resounding success the second time around. But today, he truly seems to have lost the plot. His sharing screen space with the RJD supremo, to be honest, has sent shivers down our spines. From the few snippets we have seen, there seems to be a promise of a sequel (probably titled Return of the Jungle Raj).

So, yes…while it’s true that I am no political expert, I am unfortunately driven to write this piece. After all, you have only heard of the jungle; I have lived in it. You have only heard the sounds of thunder while I was stuck in the eye of the storm. You only watched—in horror! – while I was mauled to death by a pack of wolves.

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