In 1990 after Lalu Prasad Yadav, the lower caste charismatic political leader of Bihar, became the Chief Minister of the state, the young, English-speaking, suave journalists flocked from metropolitan cities like New Delhi and Bombay to catch his sound bites on tape and camera. Their interest in Lalu was not only because of the man himself, but also his illiterate wife, his large family and his domesticated cows that apparently enjoyed chewing the grass of the palatial Chief Ministerial Bungalow built during the colonial raj. It has now become almost a myth amongst these journalists how Lalu chewed his paan (betel leaf) and spat the red spit out into a bowl, and how when asked one of those airy-fairy questions by an urbane young man from New Delhi, he raised one of his profuse buttocks to let out a loud fart before responding.
The story has become a journalistic legend because if there is one thing that India definitely respects, it is behavioural polish, whether in its businessmen or its politicians. Lalu’s lack of sophistication was deemed as crude and lower class, and he was made fun of in English-language dailies and weeklies, turning this story into a myth. There is however, an irony in the story; one might see the fart as the ultimate finger-up – bugger off as we say Down Under – to those who matter very little to Lalu. I am saying this in context of the recent rush of allegations against the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Bannerjee, by the regional, national and even international press. The didicule-ing and ‘lampooning’ of Didi, apparently in response to her mercurial temperament and unpredictable outbursts, her dictatorial style, her preference for the colour blue, her summary dismissal of the country’s railway minister for raising ticket prices without consulting her (she herself was the previous railway minister and didn’t get a good report card), and her ultimatum to the Prime Minister for revoking the strict yearly repayment of debt by the state. Even The Economist called her the ‘Mischief Minister of West Bengal’ and made fun of her effort to change the name of West Bengal to Paschim Banga. Within a year of her election, the entire world appears to be against her, projecting her as unfit to run the country as Lalu was presented by the bemused media then.