It must be an abnormal situation in which the lack of governance becomes a laughing matter. The way Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav laughed away the complaints of his wife and Bihar’s chief minister, Ms Rabri Devi, about her own government is a measure of the depths to which the state administration has sunk. It would not have been a matter of grave public concern if it were a feudal lord peremptorily dismissing his wife’s complaint. Here was a chief minister who offered to resign because she felt that “corrupt” ministers made it impossible for her to rule in accordance with the law. In normal circumstances, Ms Rabri Devi’s cry of despair would have raised a political storm, leading either to her resignation or to the exit of the tainted ministers. But such is the decline in political morality in Bihar that not only her resignation threat but also her accusations against her colleagues are simply laughed away. The conference of the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal, where she threw up her arms in despair, ended in her husband and the party chief exercising his “power” to overrule the chief minister.
But it remains the chief minister’s responsibility to stand up and be counted. Irrespective of the power that Mr Yadav wields over her, the party and the administration, it is her constitutional obligation to ensure the rule of law. She is still answerable to the people for the collapse of law and order and of the democratic institutions in the state. The failure of the administration has necessitated judicial intervention in almost all spheres of public life. The courts had to move in because the government failed to provide drinking water, pay wages to government employees or protect the people from criminals who kidnapped businessmen, doctors and even children for ransom. It was only at the court’s intervention that the government was forced to hold panchayat polls after 25 years. The fact that the state government faced as many as 4,600 contempt cases for defying court orders is a telling comment on the state of governance in Bihar. But the courts can only offer some relief to some sections of the people; they cannot make up for the government’s inability to govern. Ms Rabri Devi has a right — and a duty — to quit if she cannot uphold the rule of law.