Vol 3, PW 3 (03 Mar 99) People & Policy

A joke in India has a Japanese industrialist visiting Bihar.

He tells the former Chief Minister, Laloo Prasad Yadav: "Give me three years and I will transform Bihar into another Japan". Yadav replies: "Give me three weeks and I will transform Japan into another Bihar".

It would be funny, if it were not so tragic. Bihar is Indias poorest state.

Corruption is endemic, even by Indian standards. Caste conflict is rampant and law and order a sick joke.

In past times, Indian governments ignored Bihar as a distant backwater. Not anymore.

Last month, Bihar almost proved the undoing of the BJP government in Delhi. The story began last year when the former chief minister, Laloo Prasad Yadav, charged with corruption, was temporarily jailed to await trial.

He resigned, but not before appointing his wife, Rabri Devi, an illiterate housewife, into his place as Chief Minister, a post she held until the middle of last month when her government was sacked following a spate of horrific murders by a high caste Hindu militia, Ranbir Sena, against lower caste Hindus. Presidents Rule (martial law) was imposed on Bihar amid fierce opposition from Indias opposition parties, including Congress.

Last Friday, the BJP won support from the lower House, but faces certain defeat in the upper house where opposition parties have a majority. Rabri Devi is likely to be reappointed Chief Minister and the BJP humiliated.

Politically, the Bihar Crisis has prompted journalists to begin once more playing the Numbers Game. After recent defections from the ruling coalition, the BJP and its allies have 275 seats in parliament; the disunited opposition has 276.