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Paean is Mightier

Paean is Mightier

Author: Sanjay Kumar Jha
Publication: India Today
Date: July 12, 2004

Introduction: A government school textbook sings praises of Laloo Prasad Yadav. Poets who eulogise him are rewarded with government jobs. The Lalooisation of education and literature continues unabated.

If a Class VIII student of a government school in Bihar says that the relationship between Union Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav and his friend-turned-foe Ranjan Yadav is like the one between Lord Krishna and Sudama, he has learnt his lessons well. For this is how Mitti ka Gaurav (Pride of the Soil), Laloo's life sketch in the textbook, defines the relationship between the two. The article, which also describes the duo as do jism-ek jaan (two bodies, one soul) was written by Harivansh Narayan, director of primary education, and included in the textbook after he was made chairman of the Bihar Textbook Committee. Such superlatives are absent in the latest edition of the textbook, but it still talks about the friendship between the two.

The Class VIII textbook calls Laloo the messiah of social justice at some places and a Muslim-Yadav-Dalit champion at others. This is just one instance of how education and literature have been Lalooised in Bihar since the RJD chief came to power as chief minister of the state in 1990. It is because of this that many parents prefer private schools or those following the CBSE or ICSE syllabus to government schools.

The man responsible for the Lalooisation of school education is Narayan's mentor Ramvachan Rai, who handles three responsibilities simultaneously-head of the editorial board of school textbooks, RJD spokesperson and MLC. Rai has devised ingenious methods to portray Laloo as a saviour in textbooks. One of these was to include the names of former chief ministers and Laloo's political gurus Bhola Paswan Shastri and Karpoori Thakur in Mitti ka Gaurav to make it look like the lesson was not being partial to Laloo but talking about social justice. The intent, however, becomes clear when one sees that while there is only half a page about Thakur and Shastri, the remaining three pages are about Laloo.

The Congress has made much of the alleged saffronisation of education by the previous BJP-led government, but conveniently chooses to remain silent about the deification of Laloo in Bihar textbooks. Singing unabashed paeans to Laloo is not confined to textbooks. There have been many literary attempts to depict Laloo as a messiah and even God and the writers have been duly rewarded with plum government jobs or cash. It is as if Laloo is some king of olden times who rewards court poets who sing his praise.

Take the case of Rameshwar Singh alias Kaviji, a retired teacher who was suffering financial hardships. When he read his verses, Garibon Aur Pichhron Ka Masiha (the messiah of the poor and downtrodden), to Laloo, he asked a senior government official to get the poem printed as a book and gave Rs 20,000 to the poor poet. Union Rural Development Minister and Laloo loyalist Raghuvansh Prasad Singh released the book at a function organised by the Bihar Hindi Granth Academy which is headed by Amar Singh, who has himself written four books on Laloo.

After the resounding success of Laloo Chalisa, which glorifies Laloo  in the manner Lord Hanuman is glorified in Hanuman Chalisa, Rabri Chalisa, a tribute to Laloo's wife and Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi, has already hit the stands. Writers who have penned pieces like Muchchhar (mosquito) Chalisa (another eulogy to Laloo) have been rewarded with a place in the Legislative Council or the Rajya Sabha. "In the name of social justice, the Laloo-Rabri regime has rewarded only those writers with state benefits who have sung their praise," confirms a litterateur. Rai counters this by saying, "Literature changes according to the times and the context."

Ignoring literary merits, the Laloo-Rabri regime has, through the state textbook committee, included Narayan's stories in the syllabi of classes VIII, IX and X in the name of "social justice and empowerment". The biggest casualties of this supposed social justice exercise are renowned Hindi poets of Bihar like Gopal Singh Nepali, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Ramdayal Pandey and Shivpoojan Sahay whose pieces were deliberately dropped from the syllabus.

Also missing in the textbooks are the works of literary luminaries of the state like Fanishwar Nath Renu and Anup Lal Mandal who highlighted the problems of the downtrodden sections of society. Four pieces of Renu's prose have been included only as an optional subject for Intermediate students. The promotion of Laloo in textbooks is accompanied by systematic omission of many outstanding figures of the state, ostensibly for the cause of social justice. For instance, the life story of the renowned sociologist from Bihar, Sachchidanand Sinha, was dropped from the Class X syllabus.

The Opposition raised the issue of the Lalooisation of education and literature in Bihar on several occasions, but nothing came through. Says Kiran Ghai, a BJP MLC, "The future of innocent children in the state is being jeopardised by including Laloo among the greats. This is an attempt to perpetrate dictatorship through the back door and is a very dangerous thing to happen." Adds veteran socialist leader Luxmi Sahu, "Only those communities have benefited during the Laloo-Rabri regime which have helped them stay in power."

With Rabri Chalisa already enriching the literary environment of the state, book lovers are wondering what next. Perhaps the intellectual cell of the ruling RJD can answer that question.

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