On the terrace of a building at the end of the winding Gorya Toli gali, outside ministerji’s bedroom, a group of 20-odd men wait underneath a clothesline with children’s underwear. Outside, a large photo of Narendra Modi, arms crossed, welcomes the unending flow of men who have now crammed the entrance to the building. The name of the BJP’s sitting MP from Pataliputra who lives here is scribbled — small and tilted — below the Prime Minister’s face: “Ram Kripal Yadav”.
“Earlier, he was on that side. Now, he has joined this side,” a party worker whispers on the terrace, as another shouts into a phone with poor network: “Agar aap sab Bhumihar ke sath lag jate hain to accha hain (It will be good if you can stay with the Bhumihars).”
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Four kilometres away, Ram Kripal’s RJD opponent, Misa Bharti, who once called him “chacha (uncle)” when he was the close aide and confidant of her father Lalu Prasad, has just as many people vying for her attention in the mornings. But unlike the close quarters of Gorya Toli, they leisurely spread out on green lawn chairs in Lalu’s courtyard on Circular Road, sipping lychee juice underneath the shade of a sprawling mango tree. With Lalu in Ranchi jail in the fodder scam case, his office doors remain shut, so the RJD workers instead face a staff office, discussing their “tallest” leader from a bygone era.
“I would say zindabad so much for Laluji, he would have to tell me to be quiet,” says a longtime RJD supporter. He would also attend morning walks in Eco Park with Ram Kripal Yadav back in 2008, before the rupture that caused someone who used to defeat the BJP to join the party in 2014.
It’s now 10 am and the RJD supporters are still waiting for Misa to emerge from her side of the residence. Outside, the gate bears the name Rabri Devi, who has been allotted the residence in her capacity as former CM, and photographs of her brothers Tejashwi and Tej Pratap.
Misa emerges from the far side of the compound at 11 am in an SUV, ready to head out to her constituency in the rural areas in west of Patna. She briefly addresses party workers from her car window, telling them she can’t be expected in every village: “How many programmes will I do? There are only four days left.”
As she exits the front gates, a swarm of cameramen, entangling themselves in their cords, clamour to get a sound bite. She does little to entertain them, claiming that her voters get upset when she “wastes” time with media. Her van’s RJD flag carries the face of her father.
Ram Kripal Yadav’s schedule has gone awry. He had planned to leave home at 8 am for the day’s campaign, but a murder in Paliganj in the constituency and a late-night post-mortem had Ram Kripal, Minister of Rural Development in the Nitish Kumar Cabinet, arriving at 7 am from yesterday’s campaign.
After a shower and prayer, he’s now receiving a few men at a time to sit with him on his bed in his room. Interrupted by phones handed to him from all directions, he’s told the name and village of the person on the line. “Jitender babu. Pranam. Ram Kripal Yadav bol rahe hain. Lag ja sab jaga, lag ja. Bohuth danyabad (Ram Kripal Yadav speaking. Go for it everywhere. Go for it. Thank you).” His free hand massages his head throughout.
The phone calls continue through his car ride to Sivalapur. The line of 10 SUVs and jeeps zip past the trains leaving Danapur station, past the petrol pump, and past the buildings and hoardings that give way to the wheat fields.
“I was there, with Lalu and Nitish, everyone together. But the party broke when the RJD’s policy was diverted and the atmosphere changed,” he says, in between phone calls. “Someone who helped you for 30-35 years, and you throw them out, choosing your family instead? What has his daughter done for the party?”
Mid-sentence, the candidate dozes off. The guard hands him another phone call, and the assistant scolds him for not letting mantriji sleep.
Not a stone’s throw away, Bharti has arrived in Bihta with much less fanfare. For every three slogans for the longevity of Lalu and Rabri, the RJD supporters mention Misa once.
She steps out of the car for 10-odd minutes to sit underneath a covering for some selfies. “He left the party,” she says of Ram Kripal, “He betrayed Laluji and his family. Of course, there is pain. Neither Nitish Kumar nor the gathbandhan has given me as much grief as Ram Kripal. Peeth me chura bhonka (He stabbed us in the back).”
As her vehicle lurches over the cragged dirt path, she asks, “Is this what Ram Kripal calls development?”
In Sikandarpur, a man peeps in through her car window and says, “We will never let the chowkidar in.” “Lekin aap logon ne dhoka diya (But you all betrayed me),” says Misa, referring to her 2014 loss to Ram Kripal.
Asked if she would fight a third time if defeated again, she dismisses the question. “This is not a personal fight,” she says. “This is an ideological fight. Now he has become a BJP candidate. He is no longer my chacha.”
“Once a chacha, always a chacha,” counters Ram Kripal. “As long as I live, I will be her chacha and she will be my niece. Pyar abhi bhi hain lekin rajneeti mein pyar nahin hota hain. Politics alag hain (I still have love for her but there is no love in politics. Politics is different).”