Ram Kripal Yadav has put himself to the test. Having broken away from the RJD, he is testing his strength as a “field man” after five years as the “boy in the house” that he claims Lalu Prasad had made him.
The Pataliputra battle has become one of prestige between Lalu, who has fielded his daughter Misa Bharati, and Ram Kripal, his loyalist for three decades who has joined the BJP. With the crucial Yadav vote set to be divided, Ram Kripal is also trying to woo core supporters of the BJP, the upper-caste Hindus.
On Saturday, he begins his field trip on a white Fortuner with a visit to Mohan Singh at Bishnupura village, which has over 5,000 upper-caste Rajputs. Singh has lost his 24-year-old son, Randhir Kumar, an SSB constable in Bahraich, UP, shot dead by a colleague, allegedly over a fight over a mobile.
Ram Kripal listens to the father’s version and tells him he is not convinced with the SSB version. A village doctor shows him the postmortem report and says Randhir was hit only in the thigh and died because he was taken to a hospital too late. “Please let me know if you need my assistance,” Ram Kripal says, hands folded.
At Bihta town, he visits a Shiva temple before meeting voters. R K Singh, 20, of adjoining Bilap village, says, “Now, everything is clear,” and explains, “Ram Kripalji was already popular. Now that he is with the BJP, many Yadavs and almost all upper-caste people are with him. It is another MY (Modi-Yadav) working for him against Lalu’s MY (Muslim-Yadav).”
A group from Daulatpur, Kunjwa and Dayalpur, waits outside the temple. They too say they have always been supporters of Ram Kripal. “We have shifted from RJD to BJP,” says Raju Yadav.
At Yadav-dominated Dilawarpur, former mukhiya Sanjay Yadav leads him to voters. Ram Kripal rides a motorbike for a while and then walks to every house. A group of women wonder if the road outside their house will be repaired. Asked who will win, a woman says: “Our men decide that.” Dhananjay Kumar puts in: “Ram Kripal stands a good chance as he stays connected.” Villagers say it is a straight fight between Misa and Ram Kripal with sitting JD (U) MP Ranjan Prasad Yadav “out of the running”.
After a bumpy ride for a few kilometres comes Dariaypur of upper-caste Brahmins and Bhumihars. Brahmin elders complain that it is only after joining the BJP that Ram Kripal has visited them. He promises to visit them more often.
Jogipur’s Yadavs are not as supportive. They complain about no MLA or MP fulfilling their promises about roads and electricity. Sensing the mood, Ram Kripal speaks through a mike in the car. “Trust me, roads will be built after the elections.” He goes on to explain why he had to shift sides: “The RJD suffered many downs but I stayed as its loyal servant. But social justice means family justice to Laluji. I was ready to accept any third candidate, but Laluji was insistent on Misa and I had to take a tough decision.” He adds he is the same old Ram Kripal but now with a lotus that is set to bloom.
The villagers are still not convinced. Ram Iqbal ‘Laluji’ says: “Those who work for us will get our support. There are also issues of old-age pension and several people who should have been BPL are included as APL.”
On the way back, Dariyapur’s Brahmins are ready with tea. Ram Kripal has to rush it, having sought permission for public contact only till 4 pm. He is on the way to his last stop, Lai, but has to stop at the house of a relative of former MLA Ram Janam Sharma. Here, the band plays to welcome him. A BJP flag atop a house suggests the mood.
It is soon 4 pm. He had wanted to visit a Muslim village but that will have to wait another day.
Two groups of supporters are seen arguing over the results. A motorcyclist tells an elderly man: “Last time Lalu lost; this time Misa will.”