Indian politician versed in ways of the gods

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The Independent Online
FOR MANY Hindus it is a sacrilege, similar to Downing Street announcing a new version of the Bible with an extra testament on John Major's miracles. But in Bihar, the best way for sycophants to curry favour with the state's Chief Minister, Laloo Prasad Yadav, is by re-writing sacred Hindu texts with him as the star.

Bihar is the Indian state with the highest level of illiteracy, and the standard of poetry in Mr Yadav's praise is abysmal. Much as medieval minstrels duelled in rhyme for the favours of a maharajah, today's courtiers in Bihar are intent on flattering the Chief Minister. One poet in search of official rewards has penned a revision of an epic hymn, known as the Hanuman Chaleesa, in which Mr Yadav is put on a par with a heroic Hindu monkey-god.

Mr Yadav, a left-wing politician, is not alone among officals open to insincere adulation. Indian chief ministers, who rule states as populous as large European countries, are a vain breed. The Chief Minister of Assam, a state neighbouring Bihar, has been awarded 20 honorary titles. He takes it in his stride that his followers call him 'Son of Heaven'. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the Chief Minister, Jayalalitha, encourages her fans to tattoo her plump likeness on their biceps.

Only Mr Yadav, though, has given his fans the nod for god status. Most of the poets are long on unction and short on talent. Among the worst are a gaggle of Bihar state bureaucrats, who have published copies of their paeans in hopes that the Chief Minister will give them a promotion. Much is made of Mr Yadav's humble past; he comes from a lower-caste family and is often referred to as 'The Messiah of the Down-trodden'. He has also approved a smarmy new textbook in which he is eulogised as 'The Pride of the Soil'. Mr Yadav's antics are often designed to rile the priestly upper caste of Brahmins who have dominated Bihar's life for centuries.

Defending the schoolbook, the state Education Minister, Ramachandra Purve, told the Indian press: said: 'Earlier the son of a king used to be the successor. In a democracy, the son of a barber . . . and Laloo, the son of a peon, have become chief ministers. Students must be aware that times have changed.'

Perhaps because of his eccentricities rather than despite them, Mr Yadav is popular in Bihar. His foxiness has inspired at least 12 books, which are best-sellers in train stations and at corner newsstands, even with such odd titles as Laloo Prasad, From the Shaft of a Plough to the Residence of a Chief Minister.

Not surprisingly, Mr Yadav's critics are slinging out their own stinging couplets. A poetry war of sorts has broken out in Bihar. His rivals have published a book of poetry describing, in scathing and often ribald detail, the misdeeds of Mr Yadav's four years in office. It runs to 50 stanzas.