By Smita Prakash
Patna, Oct. 28 (ANI): To land in Patna is to arrive at the doorstep of chaos. Though to be fair, most cities in India could compete for that condemnatory epithet. The air-hostess announces that our baggage would be arriving at carousel one as we taxi into the Lok Nayak Jaiprakash airport in Patna. Of course, it arrives at the other carousel: 2. Welcome to Bihar. Expect the unexpected.
Standing at the carousel waiting for my bag to arrive, my eyes stray to the very large hoarding in front. Four men in white photoshopped waxed bodies wearing nothing but their underwear. A musty smell invades the air. The men’s toilet has a malfunctioning door so the odour wafts out into the entire lounge even as you can see the crowd of men overcrowding the men’s room.
An airport or railway station is the first impression that greets a visitor and the LNJP airport is nowhere near Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata or even Lucknow. Hurriedly I bundle myself into my cab and resist asking the driver searching political questions. This will not be a Tom Friedman formula piece. At least for the next 24 hours I will resist asking him where he is from, his religion and caste, his political affiliation, analysis and which way he will vote.
Of course I ask every person I encounter after that the same questions. It’s standard practice in Bihar. You can’t separate caste from any aspect of life. It’s all-pervasive. Because of my non-caste marked last name, nobody quite knows whether I am an OBC, upper caste, Christian or Dalit. So, I get lucky with the first few questions before my subject figures out magically ‘who’ I am. They have a way of knowing it. It’s because of living for several under the caste umbrella. It conditions you.
I head to Lalu Prasad Yadav’s residence in 10, Aney Marg in the leafy colonial part of Patna. I was at Mr. Yadav’s residence during the last Vidhan Sabha elections, exactly five years ago when Rabri Devi was performing the Chhath Puja in the swimming pool, which was decorated with marigolds.
He stood by the edge of the pool, the ‘Saheb’, watching as the former chief minister waded into the water and prayed for his long life. No going to the Ganga for the lady who was thrust into politics by her sharp and scheming husband. She was content managing her brood of nine and her precious kitchen garden. From then to now, Lalu has changed. And remained the same. 2014 general elections got him to join hands with his bete-noir Nitish Kumar. An uneasy alliance called the maha-gathbandhan was formed and they are fighting the Vidhan Sabha elections hoping to keep the BJP away from government formation. Yet in the half hour that I spend with him, he doesn’t mention Nitish’s name even once. At an odd rally, he irritably says, “kaha toh, Nitish kay netritiv me sarkar chalega” (did I not say, it is under Nitish’s supervision that the government will run).
When I ask him what will be the mahagathbandhan’s first task if they win the election and form government, he looks at me incredulously and asks who made me a journalist. What a question, is his retort! Clearly the administration and its nitty-gritties are far from his mind’s hemisphere currently. He expects the same tired questions of caste and communal equation so that he can abuse the BJP and call Mr. Modi names. I oblige, else I will be evicted from the asbestos covered shed that passes off as a garage cum meeting point for Mr. Yadav and his hangers on. There is tension in the air. The news is not good from the ground. His two sons Tej Pratap and Tejaswi Yadav are facing uphill battles in their constituencies. It is the night before polling day and their fates will be sealed in a few hours. He had hopes that one of them would be placed as Deputy CM if the alliance wins the election. But if both lose then Lalu will have to find some trusted lieutenant who is not his family member.
It is not what he had thought was happening. Lalu is smarting under the personal attack that the Prime Minister has launched against him and his children. His game was that the more the PM attacks him the better his chances of relevance in the elections. As a convicted politician, he can’t even contest the polls, yet he is kingmaker in the alliance that has been forged. Lalu and Nitish decided to play the good cop, bad cop routine. While Nitish true to his past record used parliamentary language even if his criticism of Modi was scathing, Lalu bared his claws at any given opportunity.
Gargling warm water and spitting it right beside him on to the floor, Lalu said to me, “aaj tak ka sabsay ghatiya Pradhan Mantri hai yeh” (he is the worst Prime Minister ever). Kuch gyan nahi hai, samvidhan padha bhi nahi aur court ka judgement bhi nahi pata. (He knows nothing, has not even read the Constitution and does not have any knowledge about the court’s judgement). Lalu was referring to the spin that Modi has given to the caste debate in his rally when he said that the grand alliance was plotting to steal five percent each of reservation meant for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs and EBCs.
Crossing and re-crossing his legs while sitting cross legged in the tiny plastic chair, Lalu can barely keep his eyes open, so tired is he from the campaigning and travelling. Yet, he says he has miles to go. “Dilli ki sarkar badalni hai. Bihar say andolan shuru hoga, ye jan andolan hai, ek rajya say doosray rajya, inko hatana hai.” (Will change the Central Government. The people’s movement will start from Bihar and take the country by storm). I ask him if the Congress will be party to this mass movement that he wants to begin. He gets annoyed. “koi ho, na ho, hum karenge” (whether anybody joins in or not, I will do it). There is only one planet in his universe. Him.
I ask the ‘lone planet’ if he thinks the country is ready for his ‘jan andolan’. He raises his hands dramatically in the air and says melodramatically, “desh garam hai” (The country is warming up to change). I sneak a look at the hangers on to see if there is any reaction among them. Nothing. They are just bored. They have seen this before. It means nothing till the 8th. The grandstanding will show up as naught if the numbers are not in his favour.
Lalu Yadav doesn’t want to talk of that, instead he tells me how the media has been muzzled and there is a state of undeclared Emergency in the country. I ask him if he is really quoting L.K. Advani now and does that mean that his views match with those of the BJP veteran. He knows it’s a mischievous question, and won’t be trapped. I am censured and asked if Modi has put a gun to my head. I replied in the negative, to which he says I am one of the lucky few. Luck is what Lalu needs, regardless of whether his alliance wins or loses. (ANI)