Quiz him on making headlines for all the wrong reasons and he'll turn self-righteous, quoting Guru Gobind Singh's "Jabey baan lagey, tabey roush jagey" bit to suggest that he wouldn't be the one to quit the battle-field. Provoke him with Lalu Prasad Yadav's famous "my appointee" boast and he'll remind you of the RJD leader's penchant for remarks that "aren't expected of a man of his stature".
As Bihar governor, Buta Singh evokes no envy. His May 21 report for dissolution of the state assembly is under the apex court's scrutiny. And the EC recently upbraided his administration for violating the model code in postings and transfers in the poll-bound state.
Singh's crisis, in fact, is that of an image in conflict with the task at hand. He never had the NDA's trust. And the letter he wrote -- on gubernatorial stationery -- to Lalu for a Railway official's transfer left even the RJD-Congress combine a trifle circumspect about his political utility (or is it legitimacy?) in the office he occupies.
From the governor's comments, it's apparent that he feels "wronged" -- rather than embarrassed -- by the fuss over his letter to the Rail mantri. While on the subject, his composure wavered when, at one point, he said there would be a lot of red faces at high places if he were to name those who sought and got favours from him as Bihar's governor.
"They are people in such positions that if I mention their names, they'd really be in soup. They not only took favours, they took me physically (sic) to deliver those favours to them," Singh told HT in an interview. He saw nothing wrong in his recommendation for transfer and Lalu's rejection of it on grounds of a vigilance probe against the officer: "I've been in politics since 1962 and have headed 15 ministries. People expect me to help them in difficulty. This has also been the practice in this country."
Singh spoke with caution on the dissolution case before a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. He said the NDA never staked claim, formally or informally, to form the government. "After my May 21 report was considered and adopted by the Union Cabinet, they rushed to Delhi but never came to Patna. Till today, I don't have a letter from either the NDA or their socalled leader (read Nitish Kumar), saying that he was willing to form the government."
Nitish didn't bring up the subject even at a chance meeting they had at the airport while taking the same flight. "Unhoney itna bhi nahin kaha ki bhaiya, yeh kya kiya aapney mere saath... Woh tou merey sey Guru Gobind Singh ki life ki kahaniyan suntey rahe. I'd have been good in his eyes if I had gone to him with a royal canopy to swear him in. But the Constitution did not permit me to do that." On the EC's comments, Singh insisted that at his level, the postings were ordered a day ahead of the announcement of the election schedule. "It isn't my fault if the junior staff delayed notifications. I've instructed the chief secretary to punish officials if delays on their part were intentional," he said.
But can a governor flaunted as the "appointee" of a major contender in elections carry conviction with other parties? Will Singh help cap the controversy by moving over to another State before Bihar goes to polls?
Difficult questions. But Singh sought to make light of suggestions of his "proximity" to the RJD boss: "Raj Bhawan is about 100 meters from Lalu's residence in Patna. If that's closeness, then yes, I'm close to him." He said he couldn't be expected to comment on his transfer because that wasn't in his hands. "It's a rumour mill let loose by a section of the media. There is no basis to it..."
"What can I do if somebody feels (that I am a liability). This is a very personal remark against someone who has been in public life for over four decades," he continued.
On Lalu's comment (that he was his appointee as governor) which prompted the NDA to demand his recall, Singh tried hard to be restrained: "I cannot be commenting on his style. He's known for making remarks that aren't expected of a man of his stature."
To ensure "free and fair" elections, the governor promised to "crush any mafia, any strongman who dares to stop the electorate from voting". But he had no plausible explanation for his administration's failure to nab RJD MP Shahabuddin.