R. C. Rajamani

THE Railway Minister, Mr Lalu Prasad, is one politician who has been continuously in the news the last few days, hogging the headlines. The current logjam in Parliament is also over him. Whether one likes him or not, the maverick politician possesses a charm his peers covet. He may be a political sinner in the eyes of his rivals but when he takes the floor, in Parliament or elsewhere, he oozes a rustic charm. Lalu is a master of mockery, and he uses it to express his "injured innocence". Sample this: "Whenever I take the floor (to speak), they (the Opposition) abuse me and call me names, even thief," he said in Parliament recently in his inimitable style. His words, culled from the rural Indian idiom and delivered in easy, conversational style, go straight to the heart of the listener.

The casual, careless style of his silvery grey hair only accentuates his intended image of the village simpleton. He is seen as one who is "more sinned against than sinning."

Lalu's performance in Parliament at the height of the pandemonium over the CBI charge-sheeting him in the fodder scam showed him at his quintessential best. He played out his pet caste politics openly. He declared that he came from a caste that was suppressed for long and remained socially and politically powerless. His speech touched raw sentiments.

He was supposed to be making his statement on the recent train accident near Vadodara in Gujarat. But forgotten was the human tragedy as Lalu brought to the fore the "murderous" attack on him, allegedly by "Sangh Parivar elements". To be sure, Lalu made headlines the next day and stole the thunder from the Opposition. This is his typical hit-and-run political guerrilla warfare.

Lalu's language, normally Hindi, at times interspersed with English phrases, rarely fails to evoke a smile. According to a journalist, the Bihar strongman often expresses his weakness in English thus: "Angrezi (English) is my weakness." A candid admission of his helplessness that more often than not disarms the audience.

(The author, a former Deputy Editor with PTI, is a New Delhi-based freelance writer. Feedback can be sent to rajamani_rc@yahoo.co.uk)

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated May 5, 2005)
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