“I will not contest an election ever again,” filmmaker Prakash Jha had said in September 2010, having lost the Lok Sabha election from Bihar the previous year.
“The idea of becoming an MP was to have a position where I would have access to resources. Even without being an MP, I continue to do whatever I can,” he had said at an interaction with journalists of The Indian Express.
Cut to the summer of 2014 and Jha, 62, is back contesting the polls from West Champaran for the third time, this time as a JD(U) candidate.
But barring his announcement that he would not contest elections, Jha seems to have remained true to what he said during the 2010 interaction.
He still says contesting as a candidate of Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP was a mistake, that he wants to become an MP to have “access to resources to bring about major change” and most importantly, has joined hands with Nitish Kumar, about whom he had dropped ample hints back then.
However, there has been one major change since 2010. “As a filmmaker and a citizen, I think the rise of this man Modi since last June is dangerous,” he says, adding that he is fundamentally opposed to what the BJP stands for. “Our DNA don’t match. What I have done my whole life is against the BJP.”
Jha, who used to run a Hindi channel named Maurya TV before it was acquired by Zee Media last year, thinks the “Modi Wave” is a media creation. “[Rupees] Five thousand crores!” he exclaims, referring to the alleged amount being spent by the BJP on its media campaign.
He is conscious that his new leader was in the NDA until last year, hence the subtle reference to June when Nitish Kumar walked out of the alliance. “After he drifted away from the NDA, Nitish Kumar started talking to me. There was huge emotional pressure, even from the constituency,” Jha said during a roadshow in Raxaul.
However, he agrees that there was no scope of working with the JD(U) before that: “Only after he left the NDA did Nitish become acceptable to me as a leader.”
In a seat held by the BJP, Jha is taking a stand.
“Modi nahi, vikas chahiye. Champaran ko Prakash chahiye (We need development, not Modi. Champaran needs Prakash),” is his main slogan. He has stripped the campaign of flab, making himself the focal point. “Party headquarters called today asking whether I needed any senior leaders to campaign for me. I said no. I have only asked for two rallies by Nitish Kumar,” he said.
Those hoping for cinematic moments would be disappointed. Twice, while waving to people looking at him from balconies, Jha spots boys staring at him without a smile or a wave. He holds his own chin as if to say, “Why the long face?” The boys break into wide grins.
Except a couple of stray mentions of Ajay Devgn, there are no stars on show. “Stars would be a distraction. How do you think Ajay Devgn campaigning for me will bring votes?” he asked.
Jha, whose NGO did extensive work in Bihar after the 2008 Kosi floods, believes he can win on his own merit. “In 2009, I brought in 1.52 lakh votes even though the LJP had no local organisation at all. This time, the JD(U) is backing me completely,” he said.
Ask him about why he did not support Lalu Prasad, who has been Narendra Modi’s most vocal opponent in Bihar this time, Jha says many things and then requests not to print them.
“The first thing I want to do if elected is to build 100 schools here and make them the centre of a self-sustaining community. I want to introduce a bill in Parliament to propose the creation of an Indian Teaching Service,” he says in an inspired moment. “After the result on the 16th, we start working on the 17th,” he says while addressing a small crowd in a locality, to applause.
There is a sense of ownership, too. After crossing a bridge across a drain in the Gandhinagar area of Raxaul, Jha pointed at it and used almost exactly the same words his party’s president had told The Indian Express a week back while pointing to a longer bridge across the Kosi: “I built that bridge.”
One of his supporters said Jha had lobbied hard for its construction. As the convoy proceeded to adjacent Islampur, boys climbed atop a railway bridge and showered him with marigolds. “Without that bridge, people of this locality had to use this railway bridge to get into town. There were many deaths,” said Jha.