Telegraph Calcutta

Why Modi? Without him, there is no security, say voters

In a state dominated by two rival titans for three decades, a third man has grabbed pole position. His name is not Lalu Prasad or Nitish Kumar. He is not a Bihari either. He comes from the other end of India’s breadth; his name is Narendra Modi.

Five years after he made an audacious attempt on Bihar and swept it, Modi has come to establish himself as the single most important arbiter of electoral choices. Especially so in north Bihar’s Mithilanchal districts.

You either love Modi or you loathe him; the bold point subscript of this election is just that: Modi versus the rest. And the question that gets asked bluntly and very often is: “If not Modi, who? Is there another candidate Prime Minister we can see? Koi hai race mein (Is there anybody else in the race)?”

Where the NDA appears to be doing well, as in Madhubani, it is in Modi’s name; people can’t seem to be bothered who the local candidate is. A response you must expect and eventually tire of hearing as you travel across north Bihar goes: “Modiji kaa vote hai, local mein kaun khara hai isse kya matlab, Modi ko PM banana hai (The vote is for Modi, who cares who the candidate is, the vote is to make Modi Prime Minister again).”

Where the NDA prospects appear a little uncertain, as in Ujiarpur, it is Modi who is expected by candidate and votary alike to tilt the balance. “Candidate theek nahin hai, lekin Modiji hain naa, vote to unhi ko padega, candidate se kya matlab hai (The candidate isn’t good, but there is always Modi, the vote is for him. Why should we bother about the candidate)?”

Where the NDA is panting behind the Mahagathbandhan in the race, as here in Samastipur, it is again Modi, and Modi alone, who can save the day with some miracle. “Modiji kaa jaadu chala to kuchh ummeed hai yahan, aur koi kuchh nahin kar sakta. Lekin yahan jo bhi ho, PM to Modiji hi banenge (There is hope only if the Modi magic can do something, nobody else can help. Even so, whatever happens here, Modi will become Prime Minister).”

In the summer of 2014, these parts were in blind rapture with Modi; the carpet cry was to bring him on as Prime Minister. Five years later, that sentiment is intent on keeping him in office — that rapture remains undiminished among large sections that turned to Modi at the expense of local leaders five years ago.

There is one critical, and pertinent, difference: in 2014, Modi arrived on a wave of hope, this time he is marketing fear and playing chief insurance agent against “threats to national security”. It is the one factor that has been sold to near perfection: if there is no Modi, there is no security. “Modiji nahin rahenge pradhan mantri to Pakistan ko jawab kaun dega?”

What that has effectively achieved is to push Modi’s undelivered 2014 promises, his failures on many fronts, and the bushel of allegations the Opposition is thrusting in Modi’s face, beyond the scope of argument. “Desh hi surakshit nahin rahega to aur issues uthaane kaa kya matlab hai?” retorts Daya Prasad Singh, a public sector employee, lounging about a tea stall on the Samastipur-Darbhanga road. (What is the point in raising other issues when the nation cannot be kept secure?) Present company nods, there isn’t a sound disagreeing.

But has Modi not created the scare he is ensuring people against?

“Created?” Daya shoots back, affronted. “Are you saying Pulwama was created by Modi? Are you saying we would have been safe if he had not responded with Balakot? Kya baat karte hain... what are you talking about?”

The Modi following is hyper-political, almost cultish in the unquestioning way his votaries regard him. The result often is that there can be no interrogation of Modi’s record as Prime Minister — not on the downturn in employment, not on rural distress, not on the flight of mega scamsters, not on crony capitalists he has bred, not on controversial questions on the Rafale deal. Nothing.

Asked about the many financial scandals that have erupted during the Modi years, a schoolteacher seated beside Daya points to his cap. It is an AAPist paper cap, save that it is saffron of colour and written on it is “Main Bhi Chowkidar”. Argument over.

The owner of the shack has been listening in on the chatter. It’s a ramshackle shack, the owner has himself been yoked to the coal stove, clad in shorts and a torn vest.

How would Modi have altered his life and circumstances? “Not much, nothing at all in fact, I am the same as I was.”

And yet a Modi votary? “Ekdum,” he says emphatically, “Namak-roti khaayenge, Modi ko jitaayenge.”

Telegraph Calcutta

And So We Are On The Fences


And so we are. Indeed. Where else would we be? These are our fences. We made them. But we choose not to see them. At the best of times. At the worst of times. Our fences are what we choose not to see. Fences? What fences? Nobody told us. Fences? Kothay?Where? I am so sorry, I cannot see them.

No? You can’t? You really cannot? Where might you be? Where are you located? Where is it that you might be located? May I ask? May I even dare? Forgive me, but where are you that you cannot see fences? Can you hear me? Or are you so terribly far away? Are you in a high place? Oh, thank goodness, and thank God, if you are in that terribly high place, you can probably look down. Look down and see. Look down and see where I am. Or we are. Or most of us are.

Worry not. Have no shame or embarrassment. Be not mortified. There is nothing wrong in looking down. You may look down. You may honourably look down. And then, perhaps, you may be able to see us. See who we are, where we are. Way down, way, way down, far way down your appointed gaze has ever allowed you to reach. But try. Try to look. Look down. Look down upon us. And we shall be grateful you looked down. At least you did. If not, at least you tried. To look down. Mercy be upon you.

There is a fence. Of course there is a fence. It is a darkened fence. It is a fence not easy to discern. Not for you at any rate. Because you have never seen this fence. You have never needed to. You have never ever required to come near. You have never ever required to see. You have never required. That is what it is: you have never required. What is it that you know about requiring?

I am on the other side. We are on the other side. You cannot see us. There is nothing to be seen. But we are nothing, and therefore it is only logical that we cannot be seen.

But we are there. So what if you cannot see us. You really cannot? Are we not visible? Ask Mahadeb. He will be able to help you see. He has a ThirdEye. Ask him. If you can find Him. And if He is willing.

And even so. So what if we cannot be seen. Should we make a spectacle of ourselves, now? Should we? Can you see God? Tell me? Tell us? And because you cannot see God, will you say God is not? Will you? And because you cannot see us, will you say we are not? Will you? Khauf karo Khuda ka!!Have fear. Have some fear. And have faith. For if you have no faith, there is only fear to have. Am I right? No? You have neither faith nor fear? Hmmm. Of course. Then you have the freedoms. No faith. No fear. Only freedoms. I can see. I can understand that. “I do not understand this… I have no faith… I have no fear… I have only freedoms…”

I can understand that. I do understand that. It is, in fact, a bit easy to understand that. Because you are who you are. You are on the other side of the fence. And I am on the other side from you. WE are from the other side to you. You cannot see. You cannot be bothered to see. You cannot be bothered to understand. It is for us to see. It is for us to understand. You will not. You may not. You need not. You are on the right side of the fence. WE are on the wrong side of the fence.

It is there, the fence. At least the fence you can see. You cannot? But you must. You have to. It is the fence, after all, that defines you. It is the fence that tells you that you are on the privileged side of it. That you can afford, courtesy of the side you are on, not to look or to know what is on the other side of it. Where WE are.

We. We. The MANY. As opposed to YOU. You, the few. Who cannot see. Or will not. Because the many are not for the few, the few are for the many. Is it not? It is the few who are because of the many who are; and the many are there, or must be, for the few. Or how else are the few to be who and how they are? Look. Look at the fence, and beyond it. You made the fence, look who you made it to keep out.

Let us see, let us please

Let us see what you can see

And let nobody be at any ease

If you will not let us be.

Telegraph Calcutta

BJP pressure stalls Nitish manifesto

Bihar chief minister and JDU boss Nitish Kumar is under insistent pressure from his domineering ally, the BJP, to drop key commitments from his manifesto and align it closer to the Sangh parivar worldview.

The three issues the BJP wants him to drop relate to Article 370, the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the construction of a Ram mandir in Ayodhya.

Nitish and the JDU have hitherto held a different position from the BJP on all three — they have vowed to protect Article 370, which guarantees special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and the UCC, which is an article of faith for the Muslim minority; they have also never toed the BJP line on endorsing the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

But hectored by the BJP to go silent on all the three issues, the JDU leadership has been thrown in a quandary: does it submit to the demands of the BJP, or risk their ire in the middle of a critical election?

The JDU manifesto has been drafted by a team comprising party general secretary K.C. Tyagi and national spokesperson Pavan Varma, and makes a mention of all the three issues “in keeping with our traditional secular line of inclusive growth”.

The manifesto was to have been released on April 14, but its unveiling has remained inexplicably withheld. Reliable JDU sources have told The Telegraph that it is the BJP’s last-minute demand on key and critical changes that has kept the release in abeyance.

One of the authors of the stalled manifesto, Tyagi, has in fact been summoned to Patna from Delhi by Nitish on how to deal with the BJP diktat.

The chief minister, the sources indicated, was “not averse” to “going silent” on the three issues but others, including Tyagi, were reluctant to play ball, arguing that it would mean “complete ideological subjugation” to the BJP and the Sangh.

Nitish, and his senior colleagues, have maintained thus far that the JDU has its own ideology, distinct from the BJP’s, and would stick to its “core commitments to secular principles and politics” despite being in alliance with the BJP.

On paper, the JDU avers that any dilution of Article 370 and the UCC, or any commitment to building a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya is violative of “secular principles”.

But now, Nitish suddenly appears a little shaken on those commitments. Mid-campaign, Nitish isn’t quite sure how defying the BJP will impact the future of JDU candidates in the fray. There is, of course, an unspoken dare beneath the demand the BJP is pushing — comply, or else…

Nitish’s allies have already littered the campaign with palpably divisive and anti-minority rants. The BJP’s Begusarai candidate, Giriraj Singh, declared on Wednesday that if Muslims wanted their three yards of burial space, they shall have to say Vande Mataram.

At a rally in Darbhanga on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted, in Nitish’s presence, that those who had a problem saying Vande Mataram deserve to lose their deposits.

Nitish, clearly, is having to quietly and helplessly sit out a campaign by his allies that runs contrary to his “avowed commitment” to secular politics.

The JDU is contesting 17 of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats — the same number as the BJP — but it is well aware that the support of the BJP is critical to its success in most, if not all, of those seats.

So here’s Nitish’s dilemma, being played out in the strategy rooms of the Bihar chief minister as this report is written: Should Nitish not agree to comply with the BJP’s demand, his ally will turn cool and the strike rate of JDU victories will suffer. Should he give in, and drop those critical commitments against the wishes of key authors of the manifesto, Nitish will lose even the fig leaf of being “committed to secular politics and minority rights”.

Nitish has made many convenient and contrary choices to suit his political survival and ends in the past. The unveiling of the JDU manifesto, when it does happen, will provide clues to which way he chose to go this time — the way of “conviction” or the way of convenience.


Kanhaiya in his labyrinth


Kanhaiya Kumar may have just played out not Kanhaiya but another much fabled character from the Mahabharat in Begusarai: Abhimanyu.

That lad of Arjun and Subhadra, sister to Kanhaiya, was feted from his term in the womb to become destiny’s child. He would live it out in his teens, or so the lore goes, and live it out in a way that he would scorch his name on time as metaphor for gall and gallantry.

Abhimanyu it was who dared the worthy Kaurava veterans and their impregnable chakravyuha. Abhimanyu it was who breached it and took the most formidable of his foes, pitamah Bhishma and guru Drona included, by shock and awe.

That breach Kanhaiya Kumar has achieved in Begusarai; he has blazed through the chakravyuha that he had come to tear asunder and arrived at its core. There remains, of course, the critical issue of return from where he finds himself at the end of all the battling.

The chakravyuha of today’s battlefields — for certain the chakravyuha of Begusarai — is this: hard, calcified social fortifications of political allegiance, fortifications so strong that they afford assumptions of safety to those on the ramparts, fortifications that have “impregnable” emblazoned across their walls.

Forget names and individuals for a moment, let’s just consider the entrenched camps.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) camp. Appointed local Legionnaire: Giriraj Singh, newly, and reluctantly, imported from Nawada. His army: The entire ranks of the upper castes led by Begusarai’s preponderant Bhumihars. Add to their huge and influential numbers, the rainbow coalition of the non-Yadav backward castes, those that are known figuratively in Bihar as the pachhpaniyas (the 55ers) or the paanch-phoranas (or allspice) — Kurmis, Dhanuks, Tantis, Nonias, Kamtis, Telis, Dhunias and a myriad others. The Paswans, the many thousands of Paswans. Over and above all of them, the resounding might of the one and only Narendra Modi.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) camp. Appointed local Legionnaire: Tanweer Hassan, the educated loser of 2014, a loser by as narrow a Lok Sabha margin as 50,000 votes. His army: The entire ranks of Muslims, who are many in Begusarai. The entire ranks of the RJD’s loyal Yadavs, who too are not insignificant of numbers. The ranks of Koeris. The Nishads. A fair chunk of the non-Paswan Dalits. This camp is no pushover, it is capable of overcoming the 50,000 deficit of 2014.

Enter Camp Three. Enter Kanhaiya Kumar, Begusarai ka Beta.What shall we call this camp? The Communist Party of India (CPI) camp? Well, yes. Well, no. Kanhaiya Kumar is CPI nominee from Begusarai, but he is far more than just the CPI nominee. Kanhaiya Kumar is a reputation a party nomenclature cannot contain. Kanhaiya is Kanhaiya. What he says is not what the CPI tells him to say, what he says is known as Paighaam-e-Kanhaiya, Kanhaiya’s Message. The slogan that rings for him through the campaign is not the CPI slogan. That slogan is from a popular folk song, and most unlike a CPI slogan. It goes: Haathi, Ghora, Paalki, Jai Kanhaiya Lal Ki!

Kanhaiya is not the CPI candidate in Begusarai; the CPI is Kanhaiya’s party in Begusarai. The ventricles of the Kanhaiya campaign lie in Bihat, his native village on the south-western edge of the vast constituency, the CPI office in Begusarai puts the stamp on what may require the party stamp. And probably rightly so.

The CPI used to be a Begusarai party. It used to be THE Begusarai party. But that was an age ago. That was nearly as long ago as the Soviet Union. The Leningrad of Bihar outlasted the original by about half a decade. But once it collapsed in the mid-1990s, it did not merely collapse, it collapsed and shrivelled beyond recognition. It was ousted from the Lok Sabha, it gradually lost all space in the Assembly. It became a spectre that haunted itself.

Then Kanhaiya arrived and stoked life into the ghost. And made a marquee of the CPI once again. It became a camp, Camp Three. Appointed local Legionnaire: Kanhaiya Kumar. His army: Well, a hundred thousand cadre votes in a constituency nearly two million strong. Humph. Nothing. Extras. The vote that forfeits deposits. But well. Look again. This is not the CPI camp. This is the Kanhaiya camp. The camp of the Commissar of Dissent. Count now. And keep counting. Kanhaiya goes everywhere. Kanhaiya picks up a count wherever he goes.

The one thing he told me in the raucous mill of his roadshow in Bachhwara one blistered afternoon and which rings on, is: “Main sameekaran ki rajneeti nahin kar raha hoon.” I had asked him if he would succeed in breaking the sameekaran, or the caste-arithmetic, of Begusarai. In effect, I had asked him if he would be able to break the Begusarai chakravyuha. He had said, in effect, that that chakravyuha did not bother him. He sounded certain he was going to breach it. He sounded, in fact, as if he did not see, or recognise, the chakravyuha he necessarily had to demolish.

That chakravyuha, those calcified caste and creed forts, are a reality, a Bihari reality, of course, but a reality far beyond the frontiers of Bihar. Votebanks exist; votebanks flourish. Identity politics exists; identity politics flourishes. If that weren’t the case, Narendra Modi would be knitting cardigans.

Kanhaiya always knew he was short of yarn in Begusarai, he needed to pull it off everywhere he could reach in order to sew it up for himself. He had a party long run aground. He knew he had to fire it to a storm. He knew he had to take that storm to every port. His opponents — Camp One and Camp Two — well know what visited them and what they had to withstand. When all is done and dusted on May 23, they’ll see the breaches Kanhaiya scored.

Irrespective of what happens on Verdict Day, there are two things that cannot be taken away from Kanhaiya Kumar’s Begusarai effort. One, and probably singular: he made the Begusarai campaign the most watched campaign. In Bihar. In India. Around the world. At a given time, Kanhaiya battling for Begusarai was the story in 170 countries. And why? Because here was one diminutive fellow, literally from nowhere, or from JNU, taking the fight to Mr 56 Inches. A fellow widely vilified for being anti-national, a fellow persecuted and jailed on trumped up allegations, a fellow tossed on his ears as inimical to the nation and who the hell is he, he cannot even speak a straight sentence of English and he claims a doctorate from JNU? Well, Kanhaiya is someone, and you better take note, like it or not. He brought to Begusarai a caste of campaigners the boondock has never known. From Jignesh Mevani, the Dalit Congress MLA from Gujarat, to Shehla Rashid, the new political challenger from Kashmir. Betwixt: Yogendra Yadav, Shabana Azmi, Swara Bhaskar, Prakash Raj, Javed Akhtar — different political hues, one hangout in Begusarai: Kanhaiya’s.

Two, and probably more significant: he dared the Begusarai chakravyuha. He said no to sameekaran, the touchstone of electoral politics in Bihar. He said yes to attempting everybody, every caste, every class, every religion, every political pursuit. Yes, there is a chakravyuha, yes, there are calcified fortresses of entrenched camps. But no, let me not say I see them as calcified, let me not see a chakravyuha. As one independent warrior for Kanhaiya in Begusarai put it to me, rather idealistically and rosy-eyed: “This election has the potential to bury the politics of Hindu-Muslim division and caste division on all sides. Increasingly, this kind of politics has come to be the core stalemate of Indian politics. One perpetuates the other. Mandal and Kamandal are not only two sides of the same coin, they perpetuate each other. The shared hatred towards Kanhaiya of the BJP and the RJD is nothing but a reflection of their shared political inheritance and pursuit.”

Polling Day in Begusarai — April 29 — may not have been far different from the dawn on the day Abhimanyu resolved to take on the daunting adversaries in Kurukshetra and break the Kaurava chakravyuha. It is past doubt now he made the breach. It is past doubt he made several breaches. Among the Muslims. Among the Bhumihars. Among the Paswans. Among the panch-phoranas, the Kurmis and the Koeris. Among the women, most of all. Begusarai ka Beta travelled on poll day. But did he travel far or deep enough? Would his inroads add up?

Kanhaiya, like Abhimanyu, has broken through the chakravyuha and bravely waded in. That’s the story so far. May 23 awaits.


The Kanhaiya paradox: riveting yet onerous


They begin to ripple like the intimation of a tide, those red plastic flags and those excitable hands holding them. Then rises the hubbub of anticipation, like the spur of a wind. “Aa raha hai, aa raha hai, aa raha hai, dekhiye, dekhiye aa gaya, aa chukaaa! Kanhaiyaaaaa! Kanhaiyaaaaa Zindabad!!”

The tide itself astride an SUV, a tide struggling to proceed against its own current. It’s not possible to see Kanhaiya Kumar although he is in the front seat, judging by where the eye of the storm has formed. The vehicle has been swallowed up — heads, hands, any limb that can get there reaching for the man inside. “Kanhaiya! Kanhaiyaaa!”

A party of bikers awaits at the culvert a little ahead, to lead Kanhaiya onto the day’s road show. But Kanhaiya has been stranded by his own. Some break into dance, mid-road, some into shrill cries of “azadi!”

What azadi, I wonder to one of them and the youngster turns to say, “Azadi from lies, from false promises, from unemployment, from divisive netas, azadi from what has kept us poor.”

We are in Bachhwara, a deep-rural Assembly segment of Begusarai — you see the odd pucca house, you see broken mud trails, you see cattle and humans sharing the same bereft spaces, you see subsistence quantities of harvest, freshly cut and piled, you see many young unemployed. “Kanhaiya is the promise of delivery,” the azadi chanter continues. “We have seen far too many netas promise and not deliver.”

Cadres of the CPI, whose candidate Kanhaiya is, have by now taken over the road, and pulled away the throng; Kanhaiya’s SUV is beginning to slide along. Ahead of it are many dozens of bikers, all sporting the CPI red, and many similar dozens from a long, flailing tail. Many who have arrived to catch a glimpse of Kanhaiya are merely walking along, trying to keep pace. Here and there, women and young girls have jostled to the roadside to wave at someone they can barely see; several of them have their phones brandished for pictures. So what if they cannot see Kanhaiya, they know for sure it is him passing by, THE KANHAIYA, a one-man tableau who is scripting the most exciting election in Bihar this season.

There is nothing quite as riveting as the sight of a debutant young challenger taking the arena to dare formidable challengers; there is probably nothing quite as onerous as carrying that dare through. Kanhaiya is daring that dare in Begusarai with little more than a reputation that is celebrity to some, notoriety to others.

To both sets, Kanhaiya is a name that has arrived home in Begusarai to want to be reckoned with. “This is not an ordinary time and not an ordinary election,” he tells, over the din all around. “Fundamental things are at stake and fundamental corrections are required, that is what I am here for, to convince people to send to Parliament a person who will talk forthrightly about those things and fight for them. I always have.”

He barrels through the countryside, amid swirling dust and clamour, revealing a campaign Begusarai has probably never seen the like of. It has been peppered with political heavyweights and star arrivals each day; it is being fed and fuelled by huge ranks of supporters who have come from far and away to contribute what they might — students, activists, civil society apparatchik, those whom politics excites and want a real piece of it. From reputed wing commanders like Shehla Rashid to anonymous entities like Sudip Dalvi, an environmentalist and musician from Goa who believes “everyone should contribute to sending a man like Kanhaiya to Parliament”.

Kanhaiya already wears the air of much-sequinned enterprise, but that may not yet afford him a winner suit. That will have to be cut from local cloth and stitched with hard aggregation of numbers on the ground. Begusarai isn’t easily sliced through and rearranged, although that clearly is Kanhaiya’s effort: to break through the defences of adversaries in a manner never attempted before, to become that debutant who dared and eventually grabbed the shining armour.

It may once have been easier than it is now. Begusarai, the only patch of Bihar that can pretend to call itself an industry hub, was once a CPI fortress, such that it was called Bihar’s Leningrad. But that was a long, long time ago. Bachhwara, where Kanhaiya is today, was the last Assembly seat the CPI held before it shrank and yielded the entire realm to players who boss the scene — the BJP, the JDU, the RJD, even in pockets the LJP. The CPI has nothing; what there is of the CPI has in fact been kindled to life by Kanhaiya.

Across the pit from Kanhaiya are formidable adversaries — Tanweer Hassan of the RJD, who lost the last election by a little over 50,000 votes, and Giriraj Singh of the BJP, which effectively means Narendra Modi. Giriraj came to Begusarai a reluctant candidate but was probably immediately gleeful to find a constituency already rallied on returning Modi as Prime Minister. Neither Giriraj nor Tanweer will be pushovers; they come with established cadres and loyalties. And Kanhaiya, if he has to make a match of it, will probably need to ransack both their vote banks — ranks of his Bhumihar brethren and backward voters from the BJP, huge chunks of Muslims from the RJD.

While his challenge is energetically frilled out enough not to grab prime notice, it’s the hard plating of numbers that Kanhaiya requires to turn winner gladiator. The jury on that remains out, despite the spectacular act Kanhaiya has unpacked on the Begusarai battleground. A stellar campaign, as we learnt from Arvind Kejriwal’s swashbuckling challenge to Modi in Varanasi five years ago, often doesn’t add up to enough. Kanhaiya, smart son of this soil that he is, may know that better than most.

On the journey back we ran into tortuous roadblocks — one near the GD College in the centre of Begusarai, another at a highway crossroads called Bathua Chhota. BJP president Amit Shah has been choppering overhead the same geography and both logjams had been caused by spillovers from his campaign stops. The echo heaving off both mired venues was “Modi! Modi!!”


Bihar election minus Lalu like a cabaret without Helen

This is an election like no other Bihar has seen for generations. Lalu Prasad isn’t there. It’s a bit like Helen having left the cabaret floor. Cabarets are no cabarets if Helen isn’t dancing; Bihar elections aren’t quite Bihar elections without Lalu storming the barns.

Over the last three decades, since he arrived almost unheralded as chief minister of Bihar in 1990, Lalu has won elections and he has lost them. He’s been raved about and reviled, a celebrated mass hero for many, a damnable villain to others, but always the centre of the election stage — the man to espouse and the man to eschew. Now, for the first time, Bihar’s tryst with the polls has its axis missing, banished by judicial verdicts on misdeeds that keep Lalu arraigned and away in Jharkhand. Gone from this campaign like a receded wind. Gone too, it would appear, are the sting and spice he peppered the trail with, all that daring and drama.

But it was far more than electricity and entertainment that Lalu brought to the conduct of a Bihar election. He brought to it values on stage and backstage that must now remain a void. And that absence will willy-nilly come to bear on the outcome. As a senior RJD functionary, visibly a little bereft at the party headquarters in west Patna, told The Telegraph: “He had a presence and voice that nobody could match, but far more important than that was his deep knowledge of the Bihari battleground, a knowledge nobody can claim to match; he knew people in the remotest villages, he knew how to play them, how to play complex equations, he was a master at managing. We in the party are going to miss that Lalu the most, especially during a critical election. There is nobody that comes even close across the political board.”

How much Lalu’s physical absence from the stage will eventually come to bear on the fortunes of the Mahagathbandhan is yet moot, but everybody seems persuaded he is a loss nobody or nothing can replace. RJD spokesperson and Rajya Sabha member Manoj Jha was blunt when asked: “Lalu Prasadji being the pivot of the RJD as well as the entire Mahagathbandhan, crafted around the idea of social justice and secularism, we are certainly missing the best political communicator we have. However, more than us the people of Bihar are greatly missing him as an entire generation never imagined an election without his presence.”

The holes scored by his absence are visible, often gaping. The most insistent of them is the absence of the trademark Lalu energy on the campaign trail itself. Even post multiple surgeries to keep his heart going, Lalu scorched the trail with eight or ten chopperstops each day during the make-or-break campaign of 2015. Nobody is able to keep that score, not even his youthful and younger son, Tejashwi, now thrust into a spearhead role. Rather than put speed on the campaign, Tejashwi took a four-day break last fortnight — two on account of a grounded chopper and two, we are told, because he had a dodgy tummy. It’s unimaginable Lalu would succumb to such setbacks mid-campaign. In 2000, when Rabri Devi was chief minister and the RJD was fighting with its back to the wall to retain power, Lalu campaigned incessantly by road and air, with a sore and troubling ulcer in his back.

There are also issues of command and control that Tejashwi hasn’t shown himself equal to. There are rebellions in pockets that he has not been able to control or been bothered to — the pyrrhic one by party veteran MAA Fatmi in Madhubani, for instance, and by a lesser leader in Supaul where the Congress’ Ranjeet Ranjan has virtually been left to fend for herself. There are also quibbles about the distribution of funds, some of it voiced by seniors like Abdul Bari Siddiqui, who is contesting from Darbhanga.

“Such issues would not arise if Laluji were physically present,” said a party functionary close to the first family of the RJD, “Laluji knew where to exercise his authority and where to use persuasion, Tejashwi hasn’t learnt or displayed that art.”

The hopeful among embattled RJD ranks are pinning their hopes on the Lalu magic working even in his absence — some even believe he will be able to shore up sympathy for “being denied bail despite his ill health” — but that’s a far far cry from his persona being on this stage in person. Lalu had once famously said, jab tak samosa mein rahega aaloo, Bihar mein tab tak rahega Lalu. The quote’s turned on him, it would seem, but who knows he could yet come back and quip, “But I am not even allowed to be in Bihar, you’ve sent me to Jharkhand.”

Telegraph Calcutta

You can change, and you cannot


Ah. Now then. Tell me.


Are you White, or are you really Black, I cannot quite tell in this light.


Are you for real, or are you for real, I cannot quite tell in this light.

But tell me. Please.


Are you who we saw, or are you who we chose not to see, I cannot quite tell in this light. Ajnabi kaun ho tum?


What is this? The Met department’s free HelpLine, or what?


No, this KooHooo! KooHooo!! What is this? What nonsense is this? Are you announcing the Spring or the Summer or hellweather or What?


Unnnh. Jaaao! Enough.

Koyal ho kya? Koel? That treacherous bird with infinitely more treacherous ways? Aren’t you the one that lays eggs in crows’ nests so you won’t have to bother with all of that follows the laying of eggs? Poor crows, forever more sinned against than sinning. Poor crows that must caw-caw all their lives and nurture the koo-hooos. Is there justice? Anywhere?

Is there anything else you would do? Is there anything else you will say? I am asking you questions. I am expecting you to answer them. Is that too much to expect? Having been here so long with you? Having chosen to be here so long with you? On this high and precarious branch? On this shaky ledge that you seduced me to all those years ago with your call? AchchheDin! Come. Oh please do come. Here is where it is. AchchheDin. And so I was. I mean seduced. And so I came. I mean seduced. And is this it? Is this it? I even said some time ago, chalo, hota hai, not all promises are promises meant. And then I said to myself: all right, if not AchchheDin, at least AchchheSin. That’s its own fun. For those of you who would know. For those of you who are the Initiated. AchchheSin. Fun, isn’t it? Fun while it lasts. Always is. While it lasts. AchchheSin. But say naa. Please. Say those things one more time, those sweet nothings. Kaho naa… Kya hua tera vaadaa? Woh kasam woh iraadaa… etcetera etcetera. Am I sounding too much like a 33 rpm record? May I remind you there was once upon a time a 47 rpm as well? Baaaaaabul moraaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaa aaaaa aaaaaaa… naiharooooo chhuuuuutooooo hiiiii jaaaaaaaaye. There was once that too, 47 rpm. Jaaaane kahaaan mera jigaraa gayaa ji, abhi-abhi yaheen thha kidharaaa gaya ji. Shall we play that again? Shall we, even though I cannot call you Sam? Although, I have to say, Sham comes close. Pretty close. Ugly close. Shall we play it again, Sham? Woh shaam kuchh ajeeb thhi, yeh shaam bhi Ameen hai. Tu kal to pass-pass thha, tu aaj to bilkul fail hai.

There is still time. I am still here. On this precarious perch you seduced me to. With your baritone bullnoise. With your Vulgaris. With your Sharmanis. With your “Aasmaan se aaya farishtaa!…” And it became “Maar ka sabak sikhlaane.”

Why am I still here? Why at all? On this precarious perch? Answer me.


Hmmm. You have nothing to say, do you? You never did, you charlatan, you cheat.


Ah. Frightening me? Are you now?


Really? Frightening me?


Oh, is that it? Koel to Kine. Hmm. Turncoat. Cow in cuckoo clothing! Now we know. Kya miliye aisey logon sey, jinki fitrat chhupi rahey, Naqli chehra saamnay aaye, asli soorat chhupi rahey… So long.

I have wings, you know. I can fly. You know. I have. Choice. You know. I can leave you here. Alone. You know.

I’ve sat here long enough

Waiting that you would do

But it’s really been long enough

And all you’ve done is murder and moo!