Chocolate and Gold Coins

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

I Give You Lalu

Much of India is awakening from a long slumber. Industry is popping up many places to take advantage of the reforms set forth by current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Outsourcing is definitely not a bad word in India. They are tapping into the new possibilities unleashed by the Internet and now millions of Indians work very closely with Americans.

But sadly, parts of India have missed the development train at the station. These parts are mired in a classic poverty trap: they are poor because they think poor, and they think poor because they are poor. Consider the state of Bihar, just south of Nepal. The population is about 85 million and desperately poor. Bihar has been run by either Lalu Prasad Yadav or his wife Rabri Devi for most of the last 15 years. Across India, Lalu is so famous (or infamous) that everyone knows him as just Lalu (or Laloo). Lalu famously refuses to modernize his state, and he and his wife keep getting reelected.

Recently, that famous blogwala of India, Amit Varma, sat down for a chat with a man who knows Lalu. Here is Amit’s transcription of what that man had to say:

You know, Amit, there is one word that you should never mention in front of Lalu Prasad Yadav: development. If you even whisper "development" in front of him, he will give you one tight slap under your ear. He hates that word.

If someone says to him, "Laluji, let's build a road," Lalu will reply, "you build a road in your house if you want. No roads will be built in Bihar." Lalu is in power because Bihar isn't developed, and he knows it. It is in his interest to keep the people uneducated and poor.

So at villages, he will tell the people this: "So you want a road? Ok, I'll build a road. Then the big men will come from cities and build factories here, and they will take your land and they will exploit you and make you work and you will be like slaves. So tell me, do you want a road? If you want a road, I will build it."

And of course, all those people in the villages are uneducated, who know of industry only from hearsay and myth, so they say, "No roads. We don't want roads." And Lalu says, "Janta doesn't want roads. No roads."

Elsewhere, Amit reports that there is one booming industry in Bihar: kidnapping. The motive I understand but the profit is hard to see, but profit is relative I suppose. This story is profoundly sad, but perversely I am reminded of that old Henny Youngman joke. How would it go: “Everyone in Bihar has something to say about the kidnappers. Now, take Lalu…PLEASE!”


  • Hi,

    I came to your blog today via Amit. I am curious that why your so many posts are on India? Are you interested in India, or just that you happened to befriend Amit et al?

    By Blogger Ashish Gupta, at 3:51 PM  

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