| Laloo Prasad
Patna, July 2: After the lathis come the conch shells.
Laloo Prasad Yadav is all set to usher the Ganga back into the city — much like the mythological Bhagirath had done in another era — to beat the BJP-led NDA’s efforts to woo voters by announcing a series of central projects in the state.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal chief is believed to have ordered the purchase of conch shells to be blown once the Ganga answers his call.
At Digha, about 3 km from the heart of Patna, the river changed its course and moved towards Sonepur in the north-west direction. A long,elevated block of sand forced the river to alter its flow. Huge pillars rear their heads from the river — the first glimpse of a bridge that reportedly will cost the railway over Rs 300 crore.
There is suddenly a flurry of activity as a row of cars makes their way to the site. Surrounded by three senior ministers and half-a-dozen engineers, Laloo Prasad walks towards the diara (sand block).
He cranes his eyes to trace the Ganga’s course. “I often have dreams that the Ganga is swelling back towards the city’s ghats as it used to do before. I will have to see that it actually comes back,” he tells the ministers.
A bamboo platform has been specially erected for him where he sits for hours and prays, prompting his party workers to dub him “Kalyug’s Bhagirath”.
“Bhagirath had prayed and blown conch shells to usher in the Ganga to earth and save human beings. In Kalyug, Laloo Prasad is our Bhagirath. When the river stream returns to Patna, he will blow conch shells,” said Ramkirpal Yadav, RJD general secretary.
This is not the first time that the RJD leader is visiting the site. He had been there thrice to see how the desiltation project was going. Originally a Rs-3.5 crore scheme launched by the state, it has now been scaled down to Rs 98 lakh.
Laloo Prasad’s obsession with the Ganga has sparked a political commotion with the House witnessing stormy debates for the last three days.
“The digging of a 7-km long channel covered by heavy siltation will clash with the central project in the same area, which is expected to cost Rs 28.71 crore. And the ruling party is opening another front to bungle funds,” Opposition leader Sushil Modi alleged.
BJP leader Navin Kishore Sinha said desiltation of the channel will not help as “there is hardly any water in the Ganga”.
State water resources minister Jagadanand Singh countered the charges, saying they were “all hogwash”. “The desiltation on this stretch will push the riverbed further down. Once this happens, a huge tidal flow, blocked so far by the silted mounds, will carry away the sand resulting in fresh siltation. This will automatically clear the Ganga’s passage towards Mokama,” he said.
Singh added that there was no need for the central project anymore.
As soon as the central project received the green signal, Laloo Prasad reportedly swung into action and launched the scheme. “I will see that the project is completed in seven days,” the RJD chief has promised.
“I am at least happy that Laloo Prasad is taking interest in the development (of the state) for whatever reasons,” railway minister Nitish Kumar quipped.
RJD insiders say it is not just the Opposition that Laloo Prasad has to deal with. He is fighting against some of his partymen who used their political influence to set up brick kilns along the riverbed which also forced the river to change its course.
According to one estimate, there are over 200 brick kilns between Digha and Mokama, and most of them are controlled by RJD leaders. “I will deal sternly with anyone trying to tamper with the scheme,” Laloo Yadav warned during one of his visits to the site.