Bihar polls: Lalu’s show at son’s turf

Suddenly the crowd began to stir and then flutter. This was the signal for us that our long wait for Lalu Prasad Yadav, RJD president, finally came to an end. Amid the cheers of people, Lalu on Wednesday walked to the venue of the rally on Katra crossing’s ground in Mahua constituency from where his son Tej Pratap Yadav is making a debut.

Mahua (Vaishali) 23 October, 2015: Suddenly the crowd began to stir and then flutter. This was the signal for us that our long wait for Lalu Prasad Yadav, RJD president, finally came to an end. Amid the cheers of people, Lalu on Wednesday walked to the venue of the rally on Katra crossing’s ground in Mahua constituency from where his son Tej Pratap Yadav is making a debut.

As Lalu was approaching the dais, a flood of people surged ahead as if they would breach the fences.

As soon as Lalu climbed the stage, he was garlanded by leader after leader. Like me, many journalists were capturing these moments with their lenses.

But all of a sudden, we founded ourselves swamped from behind by herds of people, who stormed into the press section and then surrounded the stage. Such a scene is usually uncommon in electoral rallies.

For a few moments one wondered how these people could come so close to the dais, apparently breaching the security.  But when Lalu himself asked some standing women to sit on the dais beside him, it was clear that the storming crowd surrounded the dais with his consent.

Unlike many other leaders, who are hesitant to mix with crowds these days, for which the discourse on security is to blame, Lalu does not show any such inhibition and acts like a true mass leader. His small gesture to invite standing people to take seat in the empty space near dais must have left a deep impression on the minds and hearts of people, who would go home with a sense of empowerment and recognition.

By such an act, Lalu, aimed at not only at converting a large section of people into voters for his party but also turning them into ambassadors for him and his party. Lalu knows that the people, to whom he came so close, would go home and narrate their experiences with many others.

To suit the stature of Lalu, a distinct chair was kept at the centre of the dais. Unlike other chairs, a towel was placed over it to give it a special look. Lalu now sat on his chair, while three-to-four women, whom he had invited onto the stage, were sitting on the floor beside him.

The image of Lalu with these women on the dais was open to multiple interpretations. While I saw his gesture as a mark of cutting the barrier between a leader and masses, a journalist sitting beside me quipped, ‘Look at Lalu. How he is sitting in the chair while women sit at his feet!’

Meanwhile, as local leaders were delivering speeches that took a dig at Modi and the BJP, Lalu was busy with some other activities. He picked up a few pieces of garlands and put them around the neck of the women one after another.

While nobody raised any objection to Lalu garlanding women, in ordinary circumstances a man garlanding a woman is often frowned upon.   This has to do with prevalent customs or superstitions, as per Hindu/Brahminical culture that if a man garlands a woman, he, thus, marries her. But Lalu is unmindful of all this.

After garlanding the women on the dais, he then throws some more garlands to women sitting close to him on the ground.

The next activity of Lalu that drew people’s attention was when he took a dummy ballot box in his hands. Against the button number 2, his son Tej Pratap Yadav’s name was written in bold letters. Every time Lalu pressed the button against his son’s name, it glowed in red light.

While people were expecting Lalu to deliver his speech, Lalu had something else in his mind. A thin-middle aged man—who was sitting on the dais and nobody had so far paid any notice to him—was introduced by Lalu to be a singer from his district Gopalganj, asking him to sing a song.

Holding a unique instrument, something like a drum, the singer began with this couplet: Is zamane mein ghariobon ki sharafat kam nahin hoti / Sona sau tukade hota hai to us ki qeemat kam nahin hoti (The decency of the poor is still intact in this age / Even if gold gets broken into a hundred-pieces, its price does not get down).

Noteworthy was the singer’s use of the term the poor (gharib) and his comparison of the poor with gold. Like the singer, the posters and speeches of the RJD leaders often dropped the term gharib. For example, one of the posters of the RJD in the ongoing Bihar polls that was put up at many places in Patna, had a  bigger-than life image of Lalu Prasad and a relatively small picture of his wife Rabri Devi with the message: ‘Achhe din ka sapna dekar, tune murkh banaya hai / Gharibo badla lelena jis ne murkh banaya hai (By showing the dream of good days ahead, you [Modi] have fooled [people], the poor should take revenge on those who have befooled them.)

While the singer was largely addressing the poor and using allegories and symbols, he did not take too long to communicate the main message straight. ‘Tej Pratap ko jitao / Mahua ke bhag chamkao (by electing Tej Pratap, good fortune would be bestowed on Mahua).

Apart from his voice, the singer’s unique way of playing his instrument, facial expressions and body movements such as jumping in the air when his voice touches high pitches, enthralled the crowd.

In this whole process, Lalu was sitting in his chair. As people clapped when they felt entertained, Lalu also smiled as he knew that many of those who were cheering up in the crowd are potential voters for Tej Pratap. According to estimates, Tej Pratap is facing a tough fight from the sitting MLA Ravindra Rai, who switched sides from JD (U) to the Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM (S) when JD (U) nominated Tej Pratap.

Such a phenomenon of a singer singing in political rallies was also seen in the BSP. One of the possible reasons for this is the fact the supporters of both the BSP and the RJD are mostly people from the lower strata of society, whom mass leaders like Lalu, Kanshi Ram or Mayawati preferred to address in their own folk culture and idioms.

However, such a strategy was not adopted by Lalu’s colleague Nitish Kumar, who too emerged in midst of the the J.P. and Mandal politics.

Just a day earlier, Nitish addressed a rally in Punpun in Phulwari Sharif constituency in which he spoke mostly in a formal language about what his government had done and what it would do if elected to power.

Thus, the styles of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav are different. While Nitish often talked about development and hardly touches the division in society based on either caste or class, Lalu more often strikes at the fault-line of caste, backward and forward, poor and rich etc, using folk idioms and cultures.

Having finished his song, the singer turned left the microphone. No sooner had he taken his seat on the floor of the dais that Lalu gestured to him that he should sing another song.

Despite the fact that it was getting dark and Lalu was yet to speak, he realised that he should give the singer some more time as he was able to strike chords with the people.

The singer did not take much time to pick his rhyme and the later part of his song was largely about making an appeal to people to vote for Tej Pratap. For example, a couplet of his song said that many leaders had so far been born [contested elections] but nobody was like Tej Pratap.

While we all expected that Lalu would come to speak, Lalu pointed to a tall and well-built man to speak. Like me, many strained their memory and scratched their head to identify the person as his face appeared familiar to us.

The person later identified himself as Ali Khan, who starred a role in the famous Bollywood film Khuda Gawah. Khan, who had acted in over a hundred films as a villain, was there to seek votes for Tej. While he compared Lalu with “ray of the sun” (suraj ki kiran) and “stars”, he made an appeal to people to vote for the RJD with the remarks. ‘I have played the role of villain in films but I am a good man.’ Moreover, he also invited the crowd to visit him if they would ever come to Mumbai.

For Lalu, having Khan on the dais served more than one purpose. While his presence as a Bollywood actor attracted some more people, his identity as a Muslim would also help consolidate minority votes further as the major social base of Lalu is Muslims, apart from his own caste of Yadavs.

Since I have attended some rallies in the ongoing Bihar elections, I can safely say that not many leaders were able to draw as much crowd as Lalu did. This has to do with his brilliance in knowing the psyche of the people, which made him come to Mahua with the singer and the actor.

After guiding these shows, Lalu finally came to give his speech. His attack on Modi was sharp. ‘Modi has cheated (thaga) the country.’ Besides, he repeated an old slogan that could easily be modified to attack one’s opponent. ‘Adha roti tawa men, Modi gayilen hawa men (half of the bread is in the fry pan and Modi is in the air [has no ground / support]).

Without going into any statistics and a complicated discussion that usually many leaders and spokespersons of partied do, Lalu asked people that when issue of price-rise was raised, Modi replied that the price of petrol had come down. ‘What if the price of petrol had come down and that of pulses has gone up. Are you going to drink petrol?’

The issue of price-rise has been brilliantly used by the leaders of Mahagathbandhan against the BJP in Bihar. While Nitish has been in power for 10 years in Bihar, a considerable section of people hold Modi government primarily responsible for the price rise.

He then made a final call to people that Modi had back-tracked and cheated on his promise to bring down the prices and give five crore jobs to people… Saying this, Lalu asked the people to press Modi by pressing the button on Lantern, the electoral symbol of the RJD.

Before winding up his brief speech, Lalu also asked the people to file a complaint if they found any defect in a voting machine. Lalu further  alerted people that on their complaints the person on duty would bring a new voting machine by informing his senior officer about the defect via his mobile phone, which he called a phone without a tail (punchh).

With this Lalu finished his brief speech and stepped down the stage. A long time after the end of the rally, the venue, areas around it and roads were still filled with people. I, too, had a tough time reaching the car of a journalist friend who gave me lift to Patna. I wondered how Lalu without spending much time behind the mike was still the main architect of the show (tamasha) at his son’s turf.

(First published in Milli Gazette)

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