2014, Bihar, News, Patna, Telegraph Calcutta

Laloo’s Emergency Daughter Misa Turns To Claim Her Place In Politics

With Misa at the Lalu Yadav residence in Patna
With Misa at the Lalu Yadav residence in Patna

Patna, March 12: The eye of the home-minted storm whirling about Bihar’s best known political family has a twinkle in it. It belongs to a pigtailed six-year-old called Gauri who has pranced in on pink crocs from nowhere and deposited her frail frame in the lap of her mother, the storm herself. This storm is a young woman called Misa Bharti, daughter to the RJD boss Lalu Prasad, mother to Gauri, source of an untimely pre-poll revolt whose face is her party veteran “chacha“, Ram Kripal Yadav.

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“My miracle child,” Misa calls the bundle that has cavorted in to demand mom’s cuddles, “The absolute delight of my life.” Gauri was born with killer intestinal cysts and went under the knife four times before she was a week old; at the time, unbeknownst, Gauri wrote herself into the annals of paediatric surgery in India merely by surviving. She has turned out a frisky pet giggling about a compound abuzz with furrow-browed adults. Gauri’s abandon and gaiety belie the somber mood that looms over west Patna’s 10 Deshratna Marg estate.

All’s not well in the RJD’s first household, less still with its pater familias, the redoubtable Lalu Prasad himself. Part of the masonry of his legislature party crumbled away recently. An ally packed up its goods and crossed over to the BJP. Another has just about been persuaded to agreeable terms of seat sharing. And as if he hadn’t been caused enough gripe between the desertion of Ram Vilas Paswan and the overblown demands of the Congress, a blister of revolt has erupted where he expected a smooth romp. His endorsement of daughter Misa as RJD pick for the prestigious Patliputra Lok Sabha contest has meant losing one of his oldest, and considerably influential, loyalists, Ram Kripal. A trusted friend has overnight turned into formidable foe flying the NaMo banner.

Lalu is lapsed on a sofa seat under a corrugated vinyl gazebo on the lawns, running a distracted eye on the latest caste data from parliamentary constituencies. The airport is next door and he awaits an all-set from the chopper pilot who will fly him to Bettiah this day. Meantime, he seeks to speak to a Congress bigwig in Delhi, now to a candidate he may have in mind, now again to an officer who may have information he urgently requires. “Lagao, lagao ji phonwaa,” he hectors Bhola Yadav, his long time major domo, “Aur kya bola pilotwa…and what did the pilot say?” He turns to us, momentarily, and says a little weary of tone: “Din bhar kabaddi karte hain, raat bhar planning and thinking. Bahut critical chunav hai, desh par khatra hai, khali Bihar ka ladaai nai hai, mulk ka maamla hai…I run around all day, and all night and plan and think. This is a critical election, a danger looms over the nation. This is not only about Bihar, this is about the whole country.”

For the moment, though, the “khatra” (danger) hovers low on his own prospects; Ram Kripal’s angry departure is the last thing he required mid-battle. “Ladai hai, ladenge, Lalu dara hai kisise? …It’s a battle and I shall fight it, has Lalu ever been afraid of anyone?” So saying in assurance to himself, he hauls himself out the sofa and saunters off to a waiting SUV that will deposit him to the helipad. Misa, meantime, is still not done administeriing Gauri her periodic dose of attention.

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Rabri Devi, former chief minister of the state, is seated on a deck chair not far from the gazebo, a hubbub of young party workers hived around her. Among them are her two sons, Tej Pratap and Tejaswi, ardent close-door competitors for the RJD mantle. Tejaswi has all of Patna plastered with posters proclaiming him the mascot of “the promise of youth”; Tej Pratap, the elder but more introverted of the two, has hit back by monopolizing all of the side wall of the Deshratna Marg mansion: Yuva Shakti, Yuva Neta, The Pratap! a 70mm banner proclaims him to be. For the moment, though, neither Tej Pratap nor Tejaswi can yet go where Misa has already gone, they haven’t made the qualifying age to contest elections. They huddle around the mother importantly as they bide time.

It is elder sis Misa — fondly referred to as “Miss” by her soft-toned IIM-trained husband Sailesh — whose time it is to exude entitlement as only a to-the-manor-born can. “I have been waiting for this (contesting Patluputra) for a long time and after Laluji was disqualified, I had the first and natural claim, isn’t it?” A question? Or an assertion? Misa’s cleverly intoned reply leaves you wondering. “And if chacha (Ram Kripal Yadav) wanted to contest, he should have told us. He never did, I was ready to give up, but when the party supremo has decided, he has decided, that is the way it is to be.”

For the longest time, Ram Kripal was allowed to believe he was natural successor to the party boss, especially on the Patliputra election, which conviction has made out of bounds for Lalu. But he erred in reading the
unwritten laws of political inheritance. Misa is the second political child this season to render radical twists to family politics. Chirag turned father Ram Vilas Paswan back to the BJP not long ago. Misa has now opened a challenge within Lalu will probably struggle to surmount. “But why blame me?” she protests, “It was always clear to everyone I will head into politics, and now, with a legal bar on my father, is the best time.”

But her claim does rest in being Lalu’s daughter, not much else, isn’t it? “But of course,” Misa retorts, as if to mean her raison is as right as mother’s milk. “I am Laluji’s daughter, that’s a huge qualification. To be born in this family, to be born during the Emergency, to have breathed politics all my life. All of that is qualification, don’t you think? Politicians’ children do have political rights, don’t they? Shouldn’t they? They have home advantage too, I do not deny. I, on the other hand, would draw advantage from that advantage, I have a head-start, being Laluji’s daughter gets me interviews with people like yourself, after all, doesn’t it?” She’s giving her conditioned hair a casual back-flip, she’s savouring what she might think a smart reply. Her convent-bred diction floats about, delicate and crystalline on a compound thick with Bhojpuri. “I could have gone the backdoor route,” she presses on, as if to say she is deserving of commendation, not criticism, “I could have gone straight into the Rajya Sabha. But I have chosen the tough route, the direct route through people. I will do my best to win, but I am ready to face loss. And nobody thinks it is a courageous thing to do!”

It should require courage to be out there seeking votes as daughter of a convicted politician, though. It must be tough, being Lalu Yadav’s daughter in public. “No, of course not. And yes. I’ll be frank. I know what I will be confronted with, a lot of nonsense about my father and my mother. But there is a reason why Laluji remains a big leader with a huge following, he must have done something right. Look at his record as rail minister. Look at what he symbolizes for the underprivileged, and for minorities, don’t forget that. My father is a great man, and he will get justice from the courts one day, I am convinced. It is tough being his daughter, but whoever said I am not a tough girl?” Little Gauri, frolicking about in the nearby flowerbed, probably got the genes to survive her severe early ailment from her mother.

2013, Patna, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

On the Eve of Split, A Few Telltale Signs in Patna

Why it was clear it was over days before Nitish formally broke from the BJP over Narendra Modi

Patna, June 14: Either the wind did it or some vandal. But intentional or unintended, man’s mischief or nature’s collateral, it’s a sight whose symbolism would grab even the blind.

The first big Narendra Modi hoarding to be emblazoned at the BJP headquarters in Patna in the Nitish Kumar years stands ripped down the middle.

The face that has brought a 17-year-old alliance to the eve of bitter rupture occupies a beatific space on the half that remains intact: Modi’s. As if it couldn’t care the other half was gone, torn and sundered.

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Tomorrow’s another day in politics but on today’s evidence, the JD(U)-BJP coalition looks every bit the image of that hoarding — split down the middle under the looming gaze of Modi.

Just when and how the last rites will be consummated are probably only a matter of logistics and form. Tomorrow? The day after? In a week? Patna is a thick swirl of speculation, but the inevitability of the break is increasingly not part of any uncertainty.

Toot chuka,” a close aide of chief minister Nitish Kumar told The Telegraph this evening, referring to the alliance. “Kaise, kab yehi tay karna baaki hai (It’s gone. All that is left is deciding when and how).”

Nitish himself was not flinching from acknowledgement of an endgame. Returning from wrapping up the last leg of his protracted Sewa Yatra outings this afternoon, he called the situation “grim” and requiring of deliberation.

Only a fortnight back, in the aftermath of his Maharajgunj defeat, he had brushed off suggestions of trouble in the alliance and labelled it strong.

Today, he was prepared to turn sardonic on appeals from BJP leaders to keep the alliance alive in the name of respecting the mandate given to it. “Dua karte hain jaan ki, Dawa jaan lene ki dete hain (they pray for my life, they offer me the potion of death),” he quipped acidly before departing the Patna airport for home.

Nitish has been feverishly lobbied by the BJP top brass to hold his horses on the Modi issue, even been told privately that there is no certainty the Gujarat chief minister will become the party’s prime ministerial nominee. But he is unwilling any more to be cajoled or convinced.

He is believed to have described some of those offering private assurances on behalf of the BJP as “khaali kartoos (spent cartridges)”.

To him, the penny-drop moment was not so much Modi’s naming as campaign committee boss; it was BJP president Rajnath Singh announcing in Goa that the party wanted to see Modi as the “bhaavi neta (future leader)” of the country.

“He has seen the writing on the wall, there will be no compromise on this,” a cabinet minister in Nitish’s inner circle said. He mentioned, rather pointedly, that neither Modi nor anybody close to him had made even the “slightest effort” to appeal to the Bihar chief minister, much less allay his apprehensions.

“The Modi camp is unbothered about the survival of this alliance,” he said, “and those in the BJP that are making worried noises are either doing it for form or they do not matter at all.”

That is a sense echoed by sections of the BJP that want the alliance to somehow survive but have lost hope. “We cannot wish Modi away any longer and Nitish will not tolerate the mention of him,” a BJP leader said this evening, almost wistful of tone. “We have no common ground left, it has all been claimed by Narendra Modi.”

What’s left, though, is for Nitish to make good his own high and unequivocally stated claim: that he will not countenance an arrangement by a man he deems communal and, therefore, unacceptable. Nitish has never publicly named Modi as fitting that description but that is political nicety whose veil has now worn thin.

Nitish’s zero-tolerance protocol on Modi is well catalogued. He has refused to let the Gujarat chief minister campaign in Bihar. He has shied away from sharing public space with him. In private conversations with BJP interlocutors here and in Delhi, he has never minced his words he will have nothing to do with Modi.

It will probably goad him to take his promised plunge.

For all its fervent entreaties in the name of the alliance — leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj became the latest to make a save-our-soul and alliance appeal to Nitish today — the BJP has offered him no credible assurance that Modi will not eventually be named candidate for Prime Minister. Their drift has been quite the opposite: on Modi, there can’t be any compromise.

It will probably also goad him that pro-Modi sections in the Bihar BJP and his own cabinet have taken their gloves off and turned belligerent. Almost as if to taunt Nitish, his animal husbandry minister and Modi acolyte, Giriraj Singh, has decided to embark on an official trip to Gujarat, even though BJP ministers are currently on an undeclared pen-down.

State BJP chief Mangal Pandey has begun to accuse the JD(U) of trying to poach BJP MLAs, likening the Bihar allies to predator and prey. “Several of our legislators have been approached with inducements by JD(U) ministers,” Pandey ranted after a meeting of BJP leaders at the residence of deputy chief minister Sushil Modi, “This is no way for an ally to behave, in fact we have been meeting only to keep our flock together, it is becoming a desperate situation.”

Nitish’s cry is not unlike: what the BJP has done by foregrounding Narendra Modi is no way for an ally to behave. Not after they knew his mind, not if they wished to keep this alliance alive. Perhaps he has come to a pass where he doesn’t care either how closely his rocked ship resembles that tattered hoarding with Modi looming down.

2005, Essay, Patna, Tehelka

Chronicle Of A Death Foretold

 

From the week that Nitish Kumar took over as NDA chief minister of Bihar in 2005 — and from far before Narendra Modi intervened — a piece on how long his unnatural alliance with the BJP could last

At the heart of the JD(U)-BJP alliance is a virulent anti-Lalooism. Now that their implacable foe has been quelled, will the combination crumble under the weight of its contradictions?

For a sense of where this massive mandate may have landed Nitish Kumar, perhaps this vignette from the recent past. Gandhi Maidan, Patna, staging post of many a momentous turn in our times — Indira Gandhi rallying opinion to wage the liberation of Bangladesh, the frail forefinger of Jayaprakash Narain risen to undo the Mighty Indira and her Emergency, an inspired Laloo Yadav sworn in to do what JP had left unachieved.

But this is Gandhi Maidan on November 16, the penultimate day of canvassing for the Bihar elections and the NDA’s final show of strength against the entrenched Laloo Yadav. A lesser battle, a lesser stage, a lesser audience. But in the immediate context, a moment momentous enough. These men had come storming Laloo’s castle several times in the past and each time they had been repulsed, one way or the other. This was a now-or-never moment.

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Star of the show, general of the battle: Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United). On his flanks, his allies, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Atal Behari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, Uma Bharti, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Sushil Modi, Shahnawaz Hussain, Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav, Nand Kishore Yadav, Ravi Shankar Prasad, arm still in a sling from that gun assault. This was meant to be an NDA affair, a joint rally. Was there another leader from the JD(U) on stage? No. Did the stage sport JD(U) colours? No. There was the odd JD(U) flag held aloft in the audience but none courtesy the organisers.

Symbolic of what is to come? Or mere happenstance that the spearhead of the challenge — and now chief minister — found himself swamped by saffron at the peak of the campaign?

Nitish Kumar rode the show as unanimously agreed alternative to Rabri Devi, the BJP was upfront in stating that loud and clear. And now that the arithmetic of elections too has gone firmly in favour of Nitish, the BJP is in no position to dispute his skippership of the alliance even if it wanted to. The JD(U) has bagged nearly 90 seats, the BJP 55. So, for the record, everything is straight.

Continue reading “Chronicle Of A Death Foretold”

2013, News, Patna, Telegraph Calcutta

“Why Is There Such Palpable Public Criticism Of You, Mr Nitish Kumar?”

His eighth anniversary as Chief Minister of Bihar is, technically, an unprecedented moment for Nitish Kumar — he has always come to his annual observations with a report card as head of a coalition. This time, it will be on his own, as head of the only JDU government in the country. 

For that reason, and more, this is also probably the toughest anniversary for Nitish — he has lost the cushion of a two-thirds majority in the Assembly thanks to the rupture with the BJP in June; he has earned a belligerent enemy in his former allies; he looks politically more vulnerable than he has ever been since he assumed charge of Bihar in the winter of 2005. But for all of that, Nitish Kumar, exuded a quiet confidence about his work being his best certificate. “Log dekhenge kisne kaam kiya kisne nahin kiya,” he told me in an interview at his 1 Aney Marg residence, “Log bewakoof nahin hain.” (People see who had done the job who has not, people are not fools.) Excerpts:

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Q: How do you sum up your performance over the last year, particularly now that you have broken with your long-term ally? Was that distracting?

A: What happened to the alliance has nothing to do with governance, that was a separate thing, that was politics and ideology. Governance has proceeded along the lines of the agenda of governance we have had all this time. I would say good progress has been made given our constraints. Especially in areas where huge expectations were attached. Power, for instance. I had made a promise in 2012 that if I cannot improve the power situation I will not go asking for votes. Power has improved. From 700-800 megawatts a few years ago, we are now generating 2300 megawatts, and the results are visible. This will improve further. One power unit in Kanti has been revived, Barauni is set to become functional again, there is a new facility in Barh. I know there are still problems with transmission and distribution but we are working on it. The encouragement to women and girls in many sectors has been amplified. Their participation has increased, that is a big thing to me. All schoolgirls are now getting a scholarship upto class X, we have been able to retain more and more at school. Infrastructure upgradation is continuing apace. Three new bridges have been sanctioned across the Ganga, they are all big projects. A bridge across the Kosi that I was pledged to inaugurat on January 14, 2014 will be opened a month ahead of schedule. Work on the Ganga embankment has begun, the state-of-the-art museum we planned is under construction in the centre of Patna. Things are moving.

Q: Why is there this impression then among people that governance in your second term has suffered, especially after you broke with the BJP? There is palpable public criticism which was absent in previous years.

A: It has not been hit one paisa. But what is one to say of this chattering class that sometimes says Ganesh is drinking milk, sometimes says the Gods are eating up salt. What is one to do about myth-makers? They (meaning the BJP) are more vocal, they have a grip on the chattering circles, that is true. But there are many who are silent, are they not going to vote? There is a reverse consolidation happening in the polity to the new noises you hear. A negative atmosphere is being deliberately created, there is an attempt to pervert the discourse. I am not going to respond to afwah (rumour) masters. People see who has done the job, who has not, people are not fools.

Q: Even so, there have been lapses recently. The bomb blasts in Gaya and Patna, the poisoning of school-children, the way mobs were allowed to run amok in Patna after Bramharshi Mukhiya’s killing last year. There is an impression the administration is losing grip.

A: I will address those issues one by one. In the Mukhiya case, it was a deliberate decision to let the funeral procession come to Patna. There was anger among his followers, they were intent on it, the issue was to conduct the funeral procession peacefully. That did not happen, unfortunately. But once distrubances began, again the choice was between confronting the crowd or letting the anger pass before action was taken against the guilty. I know there has been criticism about the way the incident was handled, but to my mind, intervening with an emotionally surcharged crowd would have sparked more violence. The school children’s deaths was very tragic, but it was not a case of neglect or food poisoning, it was pesticide. We learnt our lessons, processes have been tightened. I saw news of a rat found in another school meal today. Action has followed, people are on their toes. The blasts, who would have thought they would happen in Bihar? Our politics does not have a culture of violence, especially terror violence. Who would have thought someone will try to bomb a Gandhi Maidan rally? We had done routine checks, but you know how Gandhi Maidan is. It is impossible to sweep the whole ground, check everybody coming in. But now, those drills will have to be put in place, everyone will have to follow security protocols, go through metal detectors. Then people will say they are being harassed, people are not being allowed in. You know how things work.

Q: There’s a related issue here. Following the blasts, people have alleged your government is soft on terrorists because there is the question of the minority vote.

A: Absolute nonsense, let anybody come and make that allegation face to face with me and I shall respond to it. We have a government in Bihar, we have responsibilities, we are entrusted with upholding law and order. What is the evidence we have been soft on terrorists or on left wing extremists? Let anybody prove we have not done whatever needs to be done to tackle both. Irresponsible things have been said about the handling of the arrest of Yasin Bhatkal. Central agencies wanted him, why don’t people find out whether there were differences on what to do with Bhatkal between the IB and the NIA?

Q: Is it not true though that there is a change in the public mood? Do you sense it? Two years ago, you had told us Bihar was in a ‘Dil Maange More’ mood. Is that your sense even today?

A: Look, the work is proceeding as it was. I am committed to it. But there will be critics and criticism, that is the nature of democratic societies. When we got a huge majority in the last election, we still had about 40 percent of the vote, no more. So some people or sections are always against you, no matter what is done. I have drawn my lessons on what requires to be done in Bihar from small incidents in my experience. Over my many years in politics in Bihar, I have come to conclude that education, healthcare and positive discrimination for women and for underprivileged sections is absolutely necessary. That is what we have concentrated our efforts on. It is difficult to please all people all the time, but people will eventually understand the difference between good and bad and they will make a choice. Of this I am sure.

Q: Does Narendra Modi’s arrival on the scene worry you? Does the BJP’s belligerence worry you? After all you have to face both the BJP and Lalu Prasad as adversaries now.

A: I am not worried on that count. I do not have sleepless nights. What’s the need? I know I am doing the job as well as I can. The consequences will follow. As for people who are talking about a hawa, let me tell you that is hawabaazi (bluster). It is true I took a gamble, but it was based on ideology and principle. If others believe they will succeed on the basis of a section of the youth and corporate houses and strategists, they are deluding themselves. They are also trying to breach social peace and harmony. I know just how desperate they are to create disturbance and polarization. As chief minister I know more things than I can reveal. But the very fact we have failed their efforts is proof of the success of our efforts to keep law and order and to defeat their designs. Bihar is a very complex society. I have fought elections since 1977, so I can claim to have some sense of why people vote and why they do not. The BJP talks of a higher success rate. That itself gives the lie to their claims. Higher success rate for the BJP in the last elections means that our vote got transferred to them and theirs did not get transferred to us. Aba aata-daal ka bhaav maloom chalega (now they will realize the true nature of things).

2013, News, Patna, Telegraph Calcutta

The Big Test: Old Nitish Versus New Nitish

Patna, Nov 23: This is the most challenging and adverse power anniversary Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has arrived at in his eight years at the helm.

The deficits of a long incumbency are coming into play. The many aspirations he kindled on the derelictions of Laloo-raj are seeking fulfillment. He no longer enjoys the luxury of shining in comparison to Laloo Yadav; he is measured against his own manifesto of hope. Most of all, he must now square up to the political consequences of the ideological gamble he took in cutting off the BJP and deciding to sail solo. Nitish Kumar is on choppy waters infested with adversaries sharking in; his test will be how he negotiates them.

Continue reading “The Big Test: Old Nitish Versus New Nitish”