Meeting Lalu Prasad Yadav, the then railway minister, was an “unforgettable experience” for the then US Ambassador to India, David Mulford, according to a cable released by Wikileaks.
Mulford, who described Lalu as “as one of the most savvy, colorful, grassroots politicians in India,” however, was disappointed by the rather ‘serious’ Lalu that he encountered.
“Lalu seemed on his best behavior. He certainly was not the spontaneous, funny, earthy, rustic Lalu Indians know and love, prompting our senior FSN to comment that the Indian Ministry of External Affairs must have scared him silly prior to his meeting the Ambassador,” he noted in a cable back home.
The meeting was conducted to seek Lalu’s support for the Indo US nuclear deal, which the leader from Bihar pledged, subject to getting others too onboard.
“Yadav clarified that his own political party, the RJD, disagreed with the U.S. over Iraq, but he saw that the nuclear deal provides substantial energy and environmental benefits for India,” Mulford wrote.
The cable also showed the US ambassador trying to use his clout to make Lalu Prasad change a rail corridor from electric to diesel — an inferior technology — to favor American firms.
When Mulford congratulated the rail minister on his success in turning the railways around, Yadav said “he operated the Railways according to three words: “”faster, heavier and longer.”” “”Each word is worth two billion dollars,”” he asserted.
“Yadav said that he hoped to capture more of the freight market, 60 percent of which still travels by truck, by constructing a dedicated freight corridor from Delhi to Mumbai and Ludhiana to Calcutta.
“The Ambassador conveyed that two U.S. firms have expressed interest in building a new diesel locomotive factory in Bihar, and encouraged Yadav to ensure that the corridor would be diesel. Yadav replied that Japan’s assistance will mean that the eastern corridor will likely be electric,” the cable noted.
Despite that, the Ambassador was impressed with the intelligent and at the same time rustic leader from Bihar, not least because of the fuss he made over making them comfortable.
“Gracious and perfect host, ensuring that a sizable fraction of Rail Bhavan’s 1.4 million workers catered to our hospitality needs during the 30 minutes we were there. It was an unforgettable experience,” Mulford said, displaying the sense of humor that made the often routine and boring cables palatable.