At 3:42 pm, a white chopper appears in the sky, hovering to ensure the 5,000-plus people gathered at the Ganga Sagar Maidan in Mahisaur village can get a good look. Jostling to find space for a better view of the dais till then, the people, swathed in green scarves, carrying green flags, cheer with hands raised, in one giant greeting, before rushing to the makeshift helipad at the back, barely held back by a tenuous rope. The announcer declares: “Pradesh ke agle mukhyamantri ka aagaman ho chuka hai (The next chief minister of the state has arrived).”
Landing for his 11th rally of the day, Tejashwi Yadav doesn’t step out of the helicopter, he bounds out. As the announcer welcomes the “naujawan neta (young leader)”, the Mahagathbandhan CM candidate waves and smiles at the crowd, and breaks into a jog to the stage — all at the same time — causing his haphazard cordon to run alongside.
The optics are clear. Here is a young man aspiring to lead Bihar and representing a generational change, from the state’s elderly leadership. As the crowd rushes in a wave to the stage again, there are appreciative nods, “Dekho, netaji bhaag rahe hain (See, the leader is running).”
On the dais, the green of the RJD swamps the two flags of the ally Left parties. The white, green and orange of the Congress is visible only on one motorcycle that cuts through the ground, with Rahul Gandhi posters. But even that, atop the headlight, has the RJD symbol lantern. This is a RJD show; more precisely, a Tejashwi show. Candidate Veena Singh, contesting for the Mahnar seat, is the wife of history-sheeter Rama Singh, whose entry the late RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh had opposed bitterly. But this doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s minds.
The stage too defies any Covid precautions, with at least 50 people packed on it, juggling with garlands and mobile phones to take a selfie. Tejashwi comes to the front, and like a musician at a concert, works the crowd, eggs them on, motions for noise. By now, people have also occupied vantage points on the rooftop of a nearby school. The crowd doesn’t seem assembled by the RJD; outside the ground are rows and rows of two-wheelers, no party buses.
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There is by now no doubt left in this election that Tejashwi is drawing the most crowds. However, one lingering question remains: Is the crowd only made up of the RJD vote bank of Yadavs and Muslims, and will this convert into votes? At Mahisaur village at least, apart from the RJD’s usual, the crowd includes Bhumihar and Rajput youths from Manhar. Raghuvir Singh, 27 and unemployed, says his entire family is here. “I have come to see what everyone is talking about. I want to vote for change, but I am not sure. So I have come to decide.” Rameshwar Singh nods, “Naukri ki baat karta hai. Hum to denge (He talks about jobs. Our vote will go to him).”
Women are fewer in number, pushed to a corner by the raucous rush. Asked why they had come, they say, “Tejashwi bhaiya ko dekhne”.
Over at the stage, Veena Singh speaks for two minutes, thanking Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi (the only time they are mentioned in the speeches), her husband and finally Tejashwi. The RJD leader begins his speech with “Mahnar ki janta, aadab, salaam, pranaam”, and without any ado or reading out of names from a long list, is on the offensive, asking, “Is it time for Nitish Kumar ki vidaayi (farewell) or not?” The crowd responds with a “Haan”. “Hasn’t he destroyed everything?” he adds, again to a roar of “yes”. Every third sentence is a similar question to the crowd. He says the youth of Bihar are migrating, the state has no health or education. “You want us to keep the focus on berozgaari (unemployment) or not?” Tejashwi asks, and repeats, “Are you sure?” The crowd is rapturous.
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Senior RJD strategists say there is a common theme to the Tejashwi rallies, re-inforcing the RJD’s “thaka (tired)” description for CM Nitish Kumar. “The running to the stage, the youthful energy are in sharp contrast to the conventional Nitish Kumar or BJP rally. The idea is to show Tejashwi as a young man with energy,” says an RJD leader.
Tejashwi finally gets to the promise of 10 lakh government jobs in his speech, saying this would be “a first in history”. How many jobs, he asks the crowd, not once but six times. “Das lakh,” they reply every time. “Chup Chaap Lalten Chhaap,” he tells the people, paraphrasing a slogan first heard incidentally in the BJP’s West Bengal Lok Sabha campaign. In 10 minutes, he is done.
In Patna, the giant billboards of Tejashwi proclaim another message the RJD is at pains to convey, that it is no more a party of just Muslims and Yadavs, or focused on caste alone — “Pehle samajik nyaya, ab arthik nyaya hoga (First social justice, now there will be economic justice)”, the posters say. Tejashwi keeps repeating that he will talk about the welfare of everyone, the issues of everyone — “savarnon, uch jaati, Daliton, backward classes, extremely backward classes, minorities” — and won’t be diverted by the BJP’s attempts to bring in other matters. The RJD candidate list too accommodates communities beyond its support base.
Whether 10-minute halts, and packing in up to 14 rallies a day, are a case of too little and too much, the RJD strategist says, “If you look at the speech of any leader, the meat is basically six to seven minutes. That is what creates the headlines, and has the punch. In fact, in some places, Tejashwi even says I am not here to give ‘thakau, pakau (tired old)’ speeches. This allows him to cover more of the state as well.”
RJD Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha says, “The enthusiasm and the electrifying connect LOP Tejashwi Yadav establishes with the crowd is spontaneous.”
At Mahisaur, as Tejashwi heads off 22 minutes after arrival, they seem satisfied. As Sandeep Yadav ventures, “Didn’t he speak too little?”, brother Ankit Yadav stops him. “Itne mein hi sab toh bol diye (He said everything in so few words). Good he didn’t make us wait for long in the sun.”
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