Haskell Springer, the venerable professor of English at University of Kansas in the United States, in an interesting essay on the seafarer diaries wrote that these simple factual diaries were of interest to maritime historians and others for their wealth of detail on shipping, marine life, navigation and weather. Santosh Singh’s offering, Ruled or Misruled: Story and Destiny of Bihar is easily comparable to a seafarer’s diary, for as Springer says, in context of the seafarers, “these were men who were searchers as well as sailors, pilgrims rather than passengers – men self-conscious enough to think that their voyages had some significance larger than purely personal or merely commercial.”
Given the timing of the release of the book, just ahead of the upcoming assembly polls in the politically sensitive state of Bihar, the commercial spur for <g data-gr-id="185">the this</g> literary enterprise cannot be ruled out. But then in <g data-gr-id="183">process</g> of creating a good commercial module, sometimes good literary work <g data-gr-id="184">too</g> get produced. Santosh Singh is definitely a beneficiary of the interest, both commercial and political, which the forthcoming polls in Bihar have come to generate. But then the author cannot be faulted for the benefit which may accrue to his work, for reading through the pages one can easily see the effort which this quintessential reporter has made in compiling this book, which should be of some interest to the students of politics, history and society.
Singh opens the book on a terrific note that narrates how the party which Rahul Gandhi wishes to lead someday lost its moorings in the state. He makes some very interesting and authentic revelations of the events of contemporary history and its protagonists in Bihar politics from Lalit Narayan Mishra to Karpoori Thakur. The narrative travels through 21 chapters, talks about how Nitish Kumar is still the best bet for the CM’s post but also adds how the biggest political FAQ of this election is – why a “progressive” Nitish went with “retrogressive” Lalu Yadav. “Everything is right about Nitish but why did he go with Lalu?” is the common refrain. And this is not part of just an urban and elite debate but also subaltern dialogue, the books <g data-gr-id="156">seeks</g> to establish.
The politics in Bihar is about contradictions. When the OBCs first came together to overthrow the upper-caste hegemony in 1967, they ended up having a <g data-gr-id="135">upper-caste</g> Bhumihar Mahamaya Prasad Sinha as first non-Congress chief minister of the state.
The reporter wonders when Nitish Kumar has no convincing answer to it, why he has chosen Lalu as his pillion rider. When Nitish himself is not too convinced about getting Lalu onboard, how can he convince voters? This is one political “shock”, especially after so much talk of <g data-gr-id="143">suhashan</g> (good governance), Bihar voters are finding difficult to digest, notwithstanding social scientists like Shaibal Gupta calling it a new phase of social and political realignment following the emergence of Narendra Modi.
If you thought that the book was <g data-gr-id="149">one-long</g> narration on <g data-gr-id="142">current</g> political battle being fought in the Gangetic plains both north and south of the river flowing through the state, you are going to be proven wrong. From making revelations on how Jan Sangh, not the Congress, was the first preference for former chief minister Dr Jagannath Mishra and how Mishra had brought Anti-Press Bill in 1982 to “keep Indira Gandhi in good humour” at the height of her strained relations with estranged daughter-in-law Maneka Gandhi.
The book traces the political voyage of Lalu Yadav with some dexterity and also of Jayprakash Narayan’s other protégé Nitish Kumar’s journey from Munna of Bakhtiyarpur to his two back-to-back loss in 1977 and 1980 Assembly polls and Nitish almost quitting politics after wife Manju Sinha gave him one last chance; and finally becoming chief minister and nursing ambitions to become prime minister.
Former JD (U) Rajya Sabha MP NK Singh, who is now with the BJP, had accompanied the Bihar CM in November 2012 to Pakistan. The author says that Singh, “an example of his Prime Ministerial quest was evident when posters in remote Sindh and the wall graffiti of Larkana describing him as a future Prime Minister drew his repeated attention <g data-gr-id="147">and to say the least</g> did not displease him.” The book also has a very interesting take on the famous cancellation of dinner invitation which Nitish Kumar had extended to the BJP leadership in 2010 during the party’s national executive in Patna.
The book says that it was Sushma Swaraj, who redeemed Narendra Modi’s and party’s pride by refusing to accept any condition (of not inviting Modi) with the invitation. Sushma Swaraj, the book claims, said: ‘Is <g data-gr-id="165">tarah</g> ka <g data-gr-id="166">nimantran</g> <g data-gr-id="167">nahi</g> <g data-gr-id="168">hota</g>. Nimantran <g data-gr-id="163">me</g> <g data-gr-id="171">shart</g> <g data-gr-id="169">nahi</g> rakhi <g data-gr-id="170">jaati</g>. Jayenge to <g data-gr-id="176">sab</g> <g data-gr-id="172">jayenge</g> <g data-gr-id="173">nahi</g> to koi <g data-gr-id="174">nahi</g> <g data-gr-id="175">jayega</g>. (One cannot invite for dinner like this. A condition is not laid in case of invitation. Either all of us will go or no one will go)’. BJP leader and then deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi was asked to convey as much to Nitish Kumar on <g data-gr-id="160">phone</g>. Around 3 pm,
Nitish Kumar confirmed dinner cancellation to his deputy, says the book.
The book also has an interesting view on the “politics of malleability” practiced by LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan. There is a detailed narration on how he reworked his Godhra stand as a sign of his “political malleability” for electoral survival and bargain. “Ruled or <g data-gr-id="178">Misruled</g>” says “The leader with a big potential has settled for being a balance-tilter. He could have become a national face of <g data-gr-id="150">dalit</g> <g data-gr-id="177">politics</g> but he looks content being a leader of <g data-gr-id="151">Paswans</g>, a little over five <g data-gr-id="152">per cent</g> of the state population. Paswan knows very well that the most popular election slogan eulogising him – <g data-gr-id="153">Gunje</g> <g data-gr-id="154">dharti</g> <g data-gr-id="155">aasman</g>, Ram Vilas Paswan (The earth and heavens chant Ram Vilas Paswan) – has little meaning beyond his fiefdom.” The book carefully builds up the reader for the battle of 2015 to be fought in the Kurukshetra of Bihar.
“What brought Nitish close to his political <g data-gr-id="132">bade</g> <g data-gr-id="131">bhai</g> (elder brother) Lalu Prasad is pure, social arithmetic. It is not at all about ideology. It is true that they came from the same JP and Lohia school of thought. But they had been poles apart right from the beginning. If it is ideology, it is the ideology of convenience. Nitish’s only agenda after his defeat is to trounce his bête noire Narendra Modi,” writes the author.
If the book’s strength is in having a reporter as its author, its weakness also lies in the follies of a reporter. In newspaper industry, a good copy editor is known to give facelift to even a mundane narrative but in case of “Ruled or Misruled”, the editors have failed at even providing a good polish to the precious metal they have in form of content.