It’s 5:00 am, but Masnadpur village in Begusarai district doesn’t lend itself to the phrase “stirring itself awake”. The vibe, even in this early hour, is that of the caffeinated frenzy of newsrooms. An assortment of vehicles, bearing license plates from different states, have been lined up at the village square. Young men and women, their hair still wet from an early-morning shower, are gathered in huddles, sipping on lemon tea. Clad in a red t-shirt, armed with a familiar smile, Prince Kumar, the brother of this village’s most talked-about son, Kanhaiya Kumar, is running the show. In fact, since Kanhaiya was declared the CPI candidate for the Begusarai seat last month, the whole village has trained itself to deal with the constant attention. “The whole village is with us,” smiles Prince.
He bears a striking resemblance to his brother and seems to be aware of it. People throng to him for instructions. “When do we leave for the town?”, “When will Kanhaiya meet us?”, “Where do we park the car?” Prince, has answers for all of them.
Amidst this, an SUV bearing a Delhi license plate snakes in, almost coaxing its way into the makeshift parking lot. A woman, clad in white salwar kurta accompanied by a man in white shirt, emerge. Their body language, tentative. Prince rushes to them, taking them to the makeshift office, a shed-like structure next to Kanhaiya’s house.
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Half-an-hour later, an almost giddy Aradhana Rathore, is talking to us. “We just drove here from Delhi. We didn’t know what we would do. All I knew is that I wanted to be here, in Begusarai, and be part of this historic movement. I will do anything to support Kanhaiya. Cook, serve food, go out campaigning,” says the documentary filmmaker from Delhi.
Her husband, Sanjay Sharma, an event manager from the capital, agrees. “The kind of politics you hear and read about these days is very dismaying. Kanhaiya makes sense. He does not believe in divisive politics. He needs all the support he can get,” says Sharma.
For the past one month, Masnadpur has seen a steady stream of volunteers, claims Prince. “I would peg the number at almost 250 or maybe more. We have stopped keeping a count,” he adds. These volunteers stay at the makeshift offices spread across the village, eat at the common kitchen presided over by Kanhaiya’s mother and spend their days accompanying Kanhaiya on his roadshows.
Most volunteers, Prince insists, don’t even need pep talks by Kanhaiya. “They seem to be driven by some strange passion. They are taking up gruelling campaigning duties without even complaining,” he says. Campaigning duties involve roadshows in villages across the district and there are two sets of convoys out campaigning: one that goes around announcing the arrival of Kanhaiya the following day, and one with the man himself.
“We have to get out of the car and walk around in each village. We introduce ourselves and then initiate conversations. In some villages we have special street plays. Even if we don’t have conversations with the villagers, we make eye contact with them. That builds trust,” says 29-year-old Gaurav Samrat, a native of Rajgir in the Nalanda district of Bihar, who says he left his “call centre job” in Delhi to campaign for Kanhaiya.
As the day progresses, we keep bumping into Samrat, who seems to be in tearing hurry to make an impression on everyone around. At one moment, he is serving tea to guests with a red gamcha tied around his head. The next, he is ferrying a crowd of villagers who have come to meet Kanhaiya. The next time we see him, he is engaged in an animated discussion with the water supplier. “I don’t know what exactly I am good at, am trying everything,” he says.
Jabarjang Singh, in his flowing blue robes and a matching turban, attracts a fair bit of attention in this sea of red gamchas. The 31-year-old from Punjab’s Bhatinda is almost petulant when we approach him for an interview. When he agrees, he is more than forthcoming.
“I am a sevak at a gurdwara in Bhatinda. I have come here because I relate to the things Kanhaiya says. His agenda is development and that’s what is important,” says Singh. What does he see himself doing as a volunteer? “I will accompany him and talk to people. I will not talk to them as a man of religion, I will talk to them as a man of reason,” he says.
Shezaadi Begum, 55, from the Sabzi Bazaar area of Patna has more elaborate plans. For the past two days, she has alternated between accompanying Kanhaiya on his roadshows and being a part of the “cultural” troupe that stages street plays in villages. Shezaadi, who has been a homemaker all her life, thinks this is the time for her to do something for the country.
“My children are grown up, they don’t need me. There are other things that concern me. I hate how the country is divided into Hindus and Muslims. I am here to figure out if Kanhaiya will be the answer to the problems that are plaguing the country now,” she says.
It’s not even 6:30 am and the homemaker is ready with her hijaab pinned to perfection, and a bottle of nimbu paani in her handbag.
“One can get dehydrated. I sometimes play small roles in the street plays they stage. I feel young again,” laughs Shehzaadi.