Sit-ups to fit official crimes

LALOO Prasad Yadav, the Chief Minister of Bihar, the poorest, most wretched state in India, likes to think of himself as a zany Robin Hood. In his latest crusade against state corruption, however, he may only succeed in making his criminals more physically fit.

On a surprise tour to building sites around Patna, the state capital, Mr Yadav discovered that officials in charge were using low-grade construction materials. Instead of arresting them, he made the guilty officials do sit- ups in the monsoon mud. 'I didn't want to humiliate them, just teach them a lesson,' Mr Yadav explained later. The antics have at least distracted many Biharis from their calamitous lives. Either it is flooding in Bihar, or there are droughts.

First, Mr Yadav jolted Patna society by threatening to turn the old colonial golf course into a school where shepherd boys could practise rounding up sheep on the fairways. Then the directors of Patna's filthy state hospitals woke up one morning to find hand-scrawled notes from the Chief Minister stuck on their front doors. 'I will get the garbage heaped in your bedrooms if you do not get the hospitals cleaned,' the note warned. Nobody doubted his word. 'Who dares oppose me?' he thundered not long ago, 'I am the Robin Hood of Bihar'.

So far, though, Mr Yadav's crusades have failed to end corruption in Bihar, where feudal landlords and gangsters rule by menace. When he came to power in 1990, he doubled his cabinet to 72 ministers, most of them friends and relatives belonging to the same Yadav clan.