Few politicians can claim to enjoy torturing their voters, at least not literally. Lalit Yadav is a dishonourable exception. A liquor contractor, muscleman, social mover, political provider, man for all seasons not above breaking a few rules and bones, Yadav is not what columnists are apt to call the "consummate" politician. So when last week the police caught up with a badly-battered truck driver and his helper trapped in the outhouses of his sprawling ministerial bungalow on a high-security road named after Lord Hardinge, it merely proved a point.
The police version was filed belatedly after a media expose, some appropriate political noises and a call from an influential Congress politician in Delhi. It says Dinanath Baitha and Karu Ram, driver and helper of one of Yadavs many trucks, reported that their truck had gone missing on the Hajipur highway on the outskirts of Patna. The incident took place nearly a month ago.
What followed would have given a third-rate writer of Hindi potboilers ideas on how to improve his script. The two were repeatedly beaten up with sticks and rods, their nails yanked out by pliers and they were made to drink urine, apparently the ministers. Recalls a wailing Baitha: "Every time the ministers men would tie up my hands and feet to beat me up, he would abuse me and laugh loudly." It was a live show for Yadav, and this show was repeated every alternate day for a month for the non-stop pleasure of the minister, whose portfolio incidentally deals with developing cooperatives in the state of Bihar. Not surprisingly, after the expose, he is also absconding from Patna. According to the police, Lalit was helped by his cousin Surendra Yadav in staging this month-long exercise in sadism.
Mercy comes in various shapes. In this case, it came from a police constable who, sick of watching the unending torture, decided to inform a TV crew and spread the good word around. By the time it was done and chief minister Rabri Devi decided to sack him, Lalit had fled.
But, then, Lalit Yadav has been absconding for the last six years. He has not only been elected for the assembly twice but became minister while being declared an "absconder" in the police files-absconding in his dictionary means the luxury of a ministerial bungalow. That label of being an absconder has not deterred him from attending meetings of the district administration. For some strange reason, he was never arrested. Strange because since February 16, 1994, the then chief judicial magistrate of Darbhanga, while taking cognisance of a first information report, had issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against him and one of his accomplices.
The minister is, in a way, the archetypal product of Yadav raj politics whereby a series of powerful Yadav chieftains have come up in sundry districts across Bihar, who look after the RJDs interests. So far, it had paid the party rich dividends.
Over a decade ago, when Laloo Yadav took over the reigns of the state in 1990, in the remote Tandiha block of the Manigachhi assembly constituency of north Bihars Darbhanga district, Lalit Yadav started dabbling in local panchayat politics. At the time, he was a small-time contractor whose only mode of transport was an old, rusty bicycle. As officials narrate the story, the provincial goon thrived in the unholy atmosphere ruled by a contractor-police-politician nexus.
Soon, Lalit became a heavyweight contractor with muscle as well as corresponding political clout in the area. Being a Yadav helped. Flaunting his easy access to the corridors of power, Lalit Yadav, in a span of a mere five years, had become Darbhangas liquor and transport baron, with a fleet of cars and trucks.
In the process, he has proved that 10 years is a long time in politics, and a short time in building up wealth in a non-traditional way. Today, he holds wholesale licences for foreign and country liquor sales in Darbhanga district. People in his constituency say he gets all government contracts due to his sheer muscle power and proximity with the powers-that-be. "It is not only Darbhanga but the entire Mithilanchal region where Lalit Yadav does what he wants. No one has dared to challenge his authority ever since he got into politics," says Kaushelendra Jha of his constituency.
His 10-year career is peppered with incidents that has spread his name far and wide. Only recently, reports said his henchmen severely assaulted an executive engineer of the Public Works Department at Darbhanga for refusing to listen to his order. Police say Yadav has built a house in the Alalpatti area of Darbhanga on a piece of land grabbed from a Dalit family.
On January 29, 1993, Lalit and his friend Ashish Yadav had waylaid Shamshad Ali, an employee of Darbhangas CM College, and stabbed him near the Sakma bridge of the town. According to Ali, who survived, Lalit would shriek in delirium with every blow delivered, making it an even more macabre experience for Ali.
Yadavs foray into politics started in the court of former health minister Mahavir Prasad, once an influence in the region, but currently in jail in connection with a medical scam. Prasad used his clout to get him a ticket for the 1995 assembly election, which Lalit won. Recounts one Darbhanga district official: "Lalit very soon learnt the basics of the Yadav brand of politics and deserted his political godfather and came close to Sadhu Yadav, the formidable brother of chief minister Rabri Devi." Since then, he has not looked back.
His proximity to the all-powerful Sadhu Yadav helped him bag all the big contracts, from road construction to selling liquor, all in the name of his kith and kin. In time, political tact also came. He is known for bringing the largest crowds from his constituency whenever the RJD chief has called for a rally in the state capital.
Sadhu Yadav soon rewarded him by making him vice-chairman of the anti-corruption bureau under the cabinets vigilance department, where he apparently started punishing, humiliating and implicating officials who refused to toe his line or listen to his endless and unreasonable demands. A regular visitor to Laloos durbar, he reportedly supplied fresh fish for the RJD chiefs kitchen, knowing what his boss wants. So when Lalit Yadav was elected to the assembly in March this year, his second time, Sadhu insisted he be made minister of state for cooperatives. And it is as this that he hit national headlines last week.
Party president Laloo Prasad wasted no time in sacking the minister. In fact, some party leaders feel Laloo has killed two birds with one stone. First, he settled his score with Lalit, whod lately begun to get ambitious and was in the forefront of the rebel group led by Sadhu Yadav, and second, he has assuaged ally Congress while at the same time appearing serious about the issues of corruption and atrocities on Dalits.
Says leader of opposition, Sushil Modi: "Though the Rabri cabinet is full of leaders like Yadav who started off with petty crimes but under proper patronage became monsters, for the first time I have come across a minister who laughs and enjoys while torturing poor people." In this case, it may not be difficult to forge a political consensus. Most agree it is a monster who is at large. And theres no telling who would be the next Shamshad Ali, Dinanath Baitha or Karu Ram.