From the moment he arrived at the relief camp in Loi at about 2.25 pm,till he left about 40 minutes later,a frail Lalu Prasad,just out of hospital and recently out of jail,and politically reduced to a shadow of himself in Bihar,was the man in charge,even a raja holding court. On a raised platform outside the house of a local villager,overlooking the sprawl of unbearably fragile-looking tents,he addressed the crowd that gathered to hear him with a peremptory tone and a single,simple message: everything will be ok,he was here,he was looking into the matter.
He asked questions of a former pradhan,who stood next to him,and of the crowd. What do the people need? So there are enough blankets here? You dont want to go back to your own village? You want a home where there is a guarantee of security?
He announced he would talk to the UP Chief Minister,and took a mobile phone and called Akhilesh Yadav. Make a team,a committee. Send it to Loi,people need help, Lalu could be heard saying.
Later,he told The Indian Express that he had advised Akhilesh that You should have come here,or sent someone,people are in a bad condition here. It is your duty,your priority. And what did Akhilesh say in response? He told me that I can make assurances and he would ensure they are implemented, said Lalu.
I know what happened here, said the RJD chief,turning back to his audience.
And I know too what will happen in the future. I understand the design. Things are bad,not just at Loi,but everywhere,he said. But we will not let them succeed. Dont get scared,stay united,dont bow or bend before anyone. Bhagane waale ko hum bhagaa chuke hain,I have sent many tyrants packing. No one can push you out from here. I just spoke to Akhilesh. Now,Im here.
He spoke in euphemisms,didnt name any villains at Loi. But en route,during a halt at a roadside resort,Lalu had taken names. Western UP,and India,was being targeted by communal forces,he said,and alleged that it was all because of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. They are the forces that seek to communalise those who feed milk to Ganeshji,those that support Modi. Amit Shah,he said,caused trouble wherever he went,and that was his portfolio. But,Hastinapur is ours,no Modi-Vodi can take it away,sit on its throne.
He was guarded and held his punches on Mulayam-Akhilesh,I am not criticising anyone,but it should not have been said there are BJP agents,no victims,in relief camps. He announced an impending tie-up with the Congress,After all,it is an all-India party,and paid a grudging compliment to the man who was single-handedly responsible for the withdrawal of the ordinance that might have helped Lalu keep his Lok Sabha seat despite his fodder scam conviction,There is nothing wrong with Rahul Gandhi.
Tumhara ladai hum ladenge,I will fight your fight, said Lalu,in his parting shot at Loi.
In the camp at Loi,where blankets and rations are now aplenty mainly because of the efforts of local charitable organisations,but where they say they have counted 20-25 dead in the past four months,the new problem is forced eviction. The bulldozers/excavators arrived a couple of days ago,many tents were uprooted.
The problem is also overwhelming fear,and the absence of justice. No one wants to go back to the homes they fled when the rioting broke out each and every man and woman The Indian Express spoke to at Loi was vehement on the refusal to consider going back to the village they left four months ago. Even more than the Rs 5 lakh compensation,those huddled in Loi say they want a home away from the home they cannot contemplate going back to because their aggressors roam still free,still unpunished.
We cant go back. Give us a roof over our head,a masjid,madrasa and kabristan here, says Asghar Ali,from village Phugana. We want that those who killed and raped be caught and punished.
Its been four months,and theres been not even one arrest in Phugana. And here the administration says we should go back or we wont get compensation, says Aas Mohammed.
Two Jat boys slit my daughters throat after raping her, says Phulmijran,from village Jimana,district Baghpat. But the village pradhan saved the boys. When we complained,they beat up my son,and tried to force us to reach an out of court settlement. We asked them for three days time,and fled from the village. Since that day,weve been in this camp.
Noor Hasan from Phugana is one of the few who has got the compensation amount. He has used it to buy land near the camp to make a new home. But he must wait till the standing sugarcane is cut,and the land cleared. It will take about two to two and a half months,he says,but the officials are insisting he leave immediately. Where will we go? he asks.
The district magistrate is saying,go from here. Why dont they simply give us poison? says Raisa from Kharar.
Most of those who gathered to hear Lalu at the relief camp in Loi admitted they knew him only as a former railway minister. Very few knew him as a politician with secular credentials.
Yet,minutes after Lalus cavalcade had left in a cloud of dust,20-something Abida went back to rebuilding the shelter she had been forced to dismantle that same morning. She and her family had fled to a nearby village,and set up a makeshift tent there,only to be asked to leave by the villagers. So,she was back at the Loi relief camp,remaking a home,tying bamboo poles with shreds of coloured cloth,to be covered later with a plastic sheet.
I dont know who he was. They say his name was Lalu Prasad Yadav, she said. But he said,stay here,dont be afraid. Danda chalao,he said. Ab danda chalayenge,now we will beat them with sticks if they ask us to leave, she said,with a sudden smile and chuckle.