It has been a while since the home of former MP Prabhunath Singh at Mashkakh last had such a crowd. It is 10.15 am and RJD workers pack the house,for their chief Lalu Prasad has been camping here since May 26,and campaigning for Prabhunath in the Maharajganj Lok Sabha bypoll on June 2.
Each of the first two days of campaigning has included at least three public meetings,and road-shows through 30-odd places. Lalu has been returning at 3 am,which leaves him with little time for sleep before he is up again and preparing for the next days campaign.
Lalu senses an opportunity in the election,with disenchantment growing against the NDA government,largely over corruption.
Before he sets off on the days campaign,Lalu sits comfortably in a sofa,wearing a vest and surrounded by supporters,who give him feedback from panchayats and blocks.
With him is former director general of police Ashish Ranjan Sinha,once close to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar,but now Lalus adviser. Sinha looks up phone numbers from his diary and makes calls on Lalus behalf.
When he talks about the polls,Lalu gestures with his arms as usual,raising his voice whenever he wants to stress a point. He calls the battle one-sided and dismisses all talk about a division of the Rajput vote. The Congress has fielded Jitendra Swamy against Prabhunath,both of them Rajputs,as are 3.25 lakh of the 15 lakh voters in the constituency. Bhumihars and Yadavs form the next largest caste groups.
These media people sit in air-conditioned offices and make caste calculations, Lalu says dismissively. The ground reality is different.
Asked if he is hurt at the Congresss decision to field a candidate,he does show a hint of irritation. Then he adds,Every party has the right to field a candidate… Never underestimate the political wisdom of voters,even of those in maile (soiled) clothes. Every caste group is feeling cheated under Nitishs rule.
A group of party workers,including some women,enter the room and touch his feet. One woman,who belongs to the nomadic Nat community,says members of her family have been framed in a case. Lalu gets the police station-in-charge on the line. Nats are simple people,zara dekh lena, he says.
As the group leaves,Lalu links his campaign to Nitishs claims about good roads. He says he has been using approach roads most of the time and found them difficult to negotiate. Only national highways and PMGSY roads,built with central funds,are in good shape, he says,as he greets another group of people,these of the economically backward Nonia caste. An elderly Nonia assures him, Saab,of our 2,200 votes,2,175 are yours. Lalu smiles.
Every now and then,he returns to his pet subject. Nitish has taken away most of my people,yet he tries to invoke the fear of Lalu among people. These former Lalu supporters are being called the L-18 in Nitishs team. Lalu corrects that: And where did Nitish go from? Make it L-19. He adds,Nitish will never part ways with the BJP. People can see through that.
Once they have met him,most supporters are asked to leave. The few continued…