THE chattering classes appear to have discovered a new hate object. It is Bihar's new chief minister Rabri Devi, ensconced in the saddle by her ousted husband Laloo Prasad Yadav—a move seen as the ultimate perfidy by the backward caste leader. There has been a collective outcry, particularly amongst the urban middle class, pouring scorn and ridicule on this semi-literate mother of nine children for assuming the reins of the country's second most populous state. Indeed, judging by the hysteria generated in newspaper columns and drawing rooms of metropolitan cities, it would seem as if Rabri Devi's elevation as chief minister was the beginning of the end. There is outrage that such an appointment has been at all possible under the Constitution. In fact, there have even been suggestions that a special law should be framed to prevent the likes of Rabri Devi from wielding administrative power.
Interestingly, political leaders of different ideological persuasions have been the most strident in this chorus against the new chief minister of Bihar. The BJP and Marxists are vying with each other to deliver moral diatribes on how her appointment was a grievous blow to democracy. Both have vowed to launch agitations to oust the hapless lady.
Yet, even as the extensive media coverage of Rabri Devi provoked louder and louder lamentations from the chattering classes, they appear to have completely missed another newspaper item. It concerned the recently retired President Shankar Dayal Sharma and the amazing conditions he dictated to the government for vacating Rashtrapati Bhawan. Except for a vague report by PTI quoting sources close to Dr Sharma, the charges levelled by the Indian Express are yet to be denied either by the government or the former president himself and therefore cannot but be taken seriously.
Now, Dr Sharma is everything which Rabri Devi is not. He is upper caste, highly educated and has so far been regarded as the soul of propriety. Moreover, as president of the country, he more than any regional satrap was morally bound to be above any kind of controversy. Yet, how does the first citizen of India behave on the eve of his retirement? If the Indian Express is to be believed, Dr Sharma demanded the astounding sum of Rs 40 lakh to refurnish the bungalow allotted to him as former president. He also wanted a central air-conditioning plant to be installed in his new house and the electricity bill to be paid by the government. And, of course, a security cover from the SPG was an absolute must even though the rules did not allow it.
It is shocking that a former president of Dr Sharma's stature made such outlandish demands. It is even more shocking that the government actually capitulated to some of them just to buy peace with the reluctant pilgrim from Rashtrapati Bhawan. But what is really disturbing is the lack of even a whimper, let alone an outcry, from those who have been making such a song and dance about saving democracy from Rabri Devi. They have chosen to remain silent on the former president even though the impropriety involved in his case is far more blatant than in the appointment of the new Bihar chief minister. As a matter of fact, the succession drama in Patna can hardly be faulted in constitutional terms, considering that Rabri Devi was unanimously elected by her party legislators and then proceeded to win a majority in the legislative assembly by a comfortable margin. However much her detractors may carp, the fact of the matter is that the lady's elevation is as legitimate as any other chief minister or elected leader's in the country.
The unfair discrimination made between Dr Sharma and Rabri Devi underlines the hypocrisy of those who appear so agitated about declining moral standards in politics today. Laloo and his spouse provide convenient stereotypes to be debunked even as the sins committed by their supposed betters in educational and social background are overlooked. Not surprisingly, Rabri Devi's lack of education or social graces and even her nine children are highlighted as the perils of dynastic succession by the very people who saw nothing wrong in accepting a similar principle to perpetuate Congress rule.
Even more despicable is the attempt by politicians to seize the moral high ground on the political tamasha in Bihar. Nothing can be more farcical than the BJP's sermons on Rabri Devi considering that the party is quite happily cohabiting with BSP supremo Kanshi Ram who has thrown virtually every rule book out of the window. Nor did the BJP leadership display much morality while quietly countenancing the disgusting spectacle of party workers publicly stripping an aged dissident leader in Gujarat not so long ago.
As for the Marxists, their newfound distaste for Laloo's style of functioning has little to do with morality. For, all these years, there was much comradely applause for the boorish behaviour of the Yadav chieftain and it was flaunted as the trademark of a son of the soil. Unfortunately, his politics does not suit any more the power equations worked out at the Centre by Harkishen Singh Surjeet who has now turned to promoting another paragon of backward caste virtue, Mulayam Singh Yadav.
This is not to build a case for Laloo Yadav, who has for long been a despot and is now getting his just desserts. Nor is it to claim magical qualities of leadership for Rabri Devi who has