Issue XXVII: The World’s Biggest Election and Cow Herders

12 May

As you might know, I’m a sucker for election news.  It’s only logical that I comment on this month’s massive Indian federal elections.  Unlike in America, most people live in villages in India and the poor disproportionately vote more on election day (a holiday) than the rich.  No one can accurately predict how they will vote and there are no accurate polls to ruin the surprise on Election Day.

India holds elections every five years, and since there are dozens of parties, no one party can form a majority in Parliament.   Instead alliances or coalitions of parties gang up to beat up the other side with very confusing twists and turns.

This year the United Progressive Alliance Government of economist Manmohan Singh is aiming for re-election while the former National Democratic Alliance (upset in the 2004 election shocker) tries to grab the throne again.  On the sidelines are the Communists and their Left Front group (Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India-Marxist) stitching together a “Third Front” of Communists and regional/linguistic and caste parties like the Untouchable-led BSP party of Mayawati.  The Third Front in the mid-90s was able to make regional politicians like H.D. Deve Gowda into prime ministers but their heyday may be yet to come.

Today, I want to point out a particular character both loved and hated in Indian politics, Laloo Prasad Yadav.  Laloo Prasad or “Laloo” as he is joked about by Indians everywhere was the notoriously corrupt chief minister of the state of Bihar, the poorest and worst-run state in India.  The state is completely lawless.  But Laloo functions as entertainment for the poor masses of Bihar with his one-liners and election rallies  and as a clan leader for his “backwards” caste of Yadav cowherders.   His hairstyle is copied by the masses and there are even toy dolls made of him.  Even Bollywood stars adore him.

His RJD party dominated Bihar for fifteen years with he or his wife running the state.  Allying with the Congress Party in the United Progressive Alliance, he currently serves the Minister of Railways for the federal government.  Laloo turned around the state-owned Indian Railways (the biggest corporation in the world by number of employees) without raising fares or privatizating the company.  This turnaround is so famous and dramatic that this rowdy village politician now lectures Ivy League business students as model case study of how to run government-owned corporations.

But Laloo’s been in a bit of trouble.  His wife law lost Bihar’s elections a few years ago, and people are wondering if his party will pull through enough seats to support the Congress government in Delhi.  Not even Harvard Business School can help him for misrunning Bihar for so long.


BBC – “Ice Cream with Laloo Yadav

BBC – India Election blog

Guardian – “Challenge of narrowing shaming gulf between wealth and want

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