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Laloo and flock rack brains in tiger hub

Balmikinagar, Feb. 14: Bihar’s first couple Laloo Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi had a Valentine’s Day date with party workers in Balmikinagar, a tiger reserve on the Nepal border.

Over 30,000 Rashtriya Janata Dal workers have converged here for the national executive and training camp, on the lines of the Congress’ Panchmarhi conclave.

Rabri and Laloo Prasad inaugurated the three-day “brainstorming session” that will outline the party’s course till the 2005 Assembly polls. “We are here to decide how to go about in the next two years,” Rabri said.

“We will discuss the threat of communalism and explore the possibilities of inculcating a foundation of social justice and secularism,” said Ramchandra Purve, minister for education and parliamentary affairs.

“This may be a defining moment for us. The question is whether to embrace soft Hindutva or work towards militant secularism,” added RJD general secretary Ramkirpal Yadav.

The small irrigation town in the heart of Bihar’s only tiger reserve — home to about 39 tigers, over 50 leopards, elephants and a large number of monkeys — is bursting at the seams with people and vehicles, with almost the entire Cabinet moving here.

Smaller than Panchmarhi with an area of 210 square km, the town is plastered with pictures of Laloo Prasad and his chief minister wife. Balloons and streamers decorate welcome arches and guesthouses on the potholed road from Bettiah. At least 1,000 cars, buses and trucks are here. Vacant private houses have also been hired by the party. Makeshift toilets and tap water lines have been installed.

Laloo Prasad will put up at the irrigation guesthouse that has been turned into a fortress by gun-toting securitymen.

“This is a place of great magic, which had transformed the dacoit Ratnakar into a saint,” he says. “This is where Luv and Kush were born. There will be many more Balmikis who will be reborn here.”

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