‘System’ convicted
Lalu Prasad Yadav is no “fall guy”. However it was more than the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and 43 others (some bigwigs among them) who were convicted by the Special CBI Court in Ranchi. What was condemned was the “system” that facilitated the Rs 37.3-crore fodder scam to be dragged on for 17 years during which shenanigans aplenty were perpetrated at the  cost  of  the  Indian  people.  The  cynical  brazenness  with  which  Lalu  pursued  his  business  went  far  beyond  gimmicks  like  using  a cycle-rickshaw when surrendering in court or riding an elephant  on  his  way  out  of  jail  after  being granted bail. It extended to putting Rabri Devi on the throne  when  even  his  level  of  shamelessness did not suffice to formally hold on to the reins of power.
Bihar and misgovernance had become synonymous before Lalu “took” Patna by lantern-light, he ensured that the infamy remained intact. Even having to step down did not faze him. For all the while he retained political relevance, was even wooed by the Congress party: his sustained battle with the BJP was one factor, that in 1994 he had enough seats to help the UPA make up the numbers in the Lok Sabha was another. Long before the cash-for-vote, 2G spectrum and coal-block allocation scams (among others) hit the “fan”, Manmohan Singh&’s reputation for cleanliness took a beating courtesy Lalu ~ a man being probed by the CBI, using every trick in the book to circumvent the law ~ was made a cabinet minister, provided a locomotive with which to further frustrate the law-enforcing agencies. And had  it  not  been  for  some  internal  disturbances in the Congress party, a directive of the Supreme Court was sought to be undone by an ordinance essentially to protect Lalu&’s place in Parliament when signals from the court appeared ominous.
The judicial merits of the verdict will be assessed by a higher court, not the media. What many thinking people will struggle to assess is how a man charged with swindling the exchequer could continue to occupy so much public space. His quaint sense of earthy humour, contrived scorn for what passes as “sophistication”, boyish grin and theatrical presentations made him a media darling, reportedly a favourite of Sonia Gandhi, and a crowd-puller. Willy-nilly he came to symbolise the ugliest face of Indian politics ~ that a supercilious grin could make a mockery of the law. And who dare declare that his political “lantern” has run out of oil, he could well project himself a martyr now, inject a caste dimension into the fall-out of his conviction. Not for nothing has Rabri Devi been shrewd enough to declare that the final appeal will be to the janata-ki-adalat. A criminal brand of charm remains Lalu&’s USP.

Out of Africa
The Islamist militant has had his way and the continent of Africa ~ from Nairobi to Nigeria ~ has been roiled over the past week. The tales and visuals of horror speak of a cruel conflict in a region of strategic importance and the Al-Shabaab savagery in Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall only ignited the bedlam and butchery over several days. The mayhem in a totemic symbol of Kenya’s success might, on the face of it, suggest that the militant had attacked the country’s booming prosperity. But only partly, only very partly. On closer reflection, it signified a brutal retaliation for the Kenyan government’s military operation against militants in neighbouring Somalia. Kenya has sent about 4,000 soldiers to Somalia where they are fighting to flush out the Al-Shabaab, an affiliate of the Al Qaida. The ferocity of the strike and the number of casualties would suggest that the authorities were caught with all defences down. The insurgents had vowed to strike at targets inside Kenya in response to the presence of its troops on Somali soil. Last week’s savage attack is the most audacious in Kenya since the Al Qaida blew up the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing 200 people. The Kenyan military support to Somalia against the militants began in 2011, when the country sent its troops as part of an African Union force created to defeat Al Shabaab. Awesome indeed has been the dissent against perceived African unity.
Sad to reflect that similar horrors are taking place in the north of Nigeria that can geographically be mapped as a predominantly Muslim and fundamentalist part of the country. In the latest outrage on Sunday, Boko Haram shot dead at least 40 students at an agricultural college as they slept in their dormitory beds ~ the latest victims of a conflict that has killed close to 4,000 people over the past four years. The name itself ~ "Western education is sinful" in English translation ~ suggests a fanatical aversion to learning… of a piece with the attitude of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But whereas, the latter has generally been surgical in its offensives ~ the shooting of Sushmita Banerjee, the targeting of Malala Yousufzai, and the conspiracy against Asma Jahangir ~ Nigeria’s Boko Haram has been decidedly more sweeping.
It has been a lethal cocktail of aversion to other religious groups and education in the wider context. Christian preachers have been beheaded, school children slaughtered during exams, and families ripped apart. The Nigerian army’s response ~ burning of homes and execution of the militants ~ has served to steel the resolve of Boko Haram. Parts of Africa are witnessing a socio-religious crisis.