The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Laloo wields lathi to beat trishul

Patna, March 8: Follow the father, buy a stick.

The command from their boss, barked out in the jungles of West Champaran, has sparked a lathi-buying spree among Rashtriya Janata Dal workers. Not surprisingly, sticks are fast disappearing from markets across Bihar.

“Pick up a lathi in self-defence. This is still a powerful shield against attacks against you. Nothing else,” Laloo Prasad Yadav thundered at a rally last month in Balmikinagar forest, urging his men to take up “Gandhiji’s weapon”.

The rally was to mark a meeting of the party’s national body and the RJD chief could not have chosen a better spot to urge his men — it was in Champaran where Gandhiji had begun his satyagraha.

But Laloo Prasad soon realised that political symbolism needed to be backed up with some kind of ritual before Dalit and backward supporters accepted it. So he instructed his supporters to observe a day as “lathi ko tel pilana utsab (massage oil on sticks festival).

He fixed March 21 as the date when RJD supporters would buy oil and apply it on sticks between 12 noon and 2 pm at every district headquarters.

“This will not be a public demonstration. The workers would silently come to their respective block, district party office, massage oil on sticks and go back,” said Baban Raut, an RJD office-bearer. The sticks would then be put back.

On May 1, the RJD plans to organise a mega rally in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan, where party workers would assemble, each carrying a lathi.

What is Laloo Prasad up to'

“If RSS-Bajrang Dal volunteers can carry trishul (tridents) on their shoulders, Laloo Yadav’s crusaders would use long, well-oiled lathis to counter them,” said Rambachan Rai, an RJD general secretary. “This is not a lathi meant for violence. It is a stick reminiscent of Gandhiji’s satyagraha in Champaran. We are trying to use its symbolic value.”

Ramkirpal Yadav, a key organiser of the May 1 rally, says the party has thought of using the lathi in a calculated manner. “If lakhs who will be gathering in Patna on May 1 carry a stick, it would not create any law and order condition. It would have been so had it been any other weapon.”

The message has gone down well with the workers. While talking to reporters in the Assembly yesterday, chief minister Rabri Devi said there are no sticks available in Muzaffarpur. Similar reports are coming in from all other north Bihar districts.

Opposition parties are apprehensive. “This is just another gimmick of Laloo Yadav to shore up his popular support,” says Sushil Modi, Opposition leader in the Assembly.

As a former RJD leader put it, the Bihar strongman “wants to keep his party workers on their toes”. Symbolic weapons are mechanisms to recharge them for the ballot war, he said. “The May 1 rally is preparation for that only.”

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