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Waving his wand, for Jogi
- State borders blur as Laloo Prasad canvasses for Chhattisgarh CM in give-and-take

Bilaspur, Nov. 27: Rotors whirring, the helicopter alighted like a huge bird in the early morning sunshine. As the wheels touched the wind-flattened grass, the door swung open and out stepped the messiah of the downtrodden — a picture of poise in a spotless white kurta-pajama.

Laloo Prasad Yadav — showman par excellence — was in Chingarajpara, a mining township nearly 250 km from Bilaspur, to repay his debt to friend Ajit Jogi.

The Congress chief minister of Chhattisgarh had camped in Bihar for a fortnight, canvassing for the Rashtriya Janata Dal during the last Assembly elections in 2000. Now Laloo Prasad was here to return the favour.

His presence sent a ripple of excitement through the crowd. Chants of “Laloo Prasad, zindabad” greeted him as he stepped on the podium. More than 1,000 tribal villagers and miners had gathered to hear him speak and laugh at his wisecracks.

The Congress is projecting the RJD chief as the champion of the Dalits to mobilise backward votes. Posters around the venue describe him as “Garibon aur Daliton ka massiha, jan-jan ka neta (the saviour of the Dalits and the poor and a leader of the masses)”.

The former Bihar chief minister is scheduled to address six rallies in Chhattisgarh. His rallies, if nothing else, would provide the comic interlude in the grim battle for the ballot, which has been reduced to a slanging match between Jogi and the BJP’s Dilip Singh Judeo.

Laloo Prasad did not disappoint. “Na mange sona chandi, na mange hira moti, main to maangu Ajit Jogi (I don’t want gold or silver, diamonds or pearls, I want Ajit Jogi),” he lilted in his quaint Bhojpuri accent, sending the crowd into fits of laughter.

By the time the laughter died, Laloo Prasad had already moved on to another role — the fire-breathing politician. But the wordplay did not stop. “Bhajapa ka safaya semi-final mein hi ho jayega (the BJP will be wiped out in the semi-final round),” he thundered and then went on to describe the BJP as a party of corrupt politicians.

Bangaru kangaroo jaisa tapka paison ke liye, aur khuda ki kasam, Judeo ne sher jaisa lapka paison ke liye (Bangaru Laxman jumped like a kangaroo to collect the money and Judeo roared like a lion with the bribe),” he bellowed over the roar of the crowd. The true character of the BJP, he added, was the “Bangaru-Judeo scandal”.

The Congress feels that Laloo Prasad’s presence will help draw backward votes. The backward and the Dalit segments in the state comprise the Kurmis, Sahus, Satnamis and Jatavs. The dominant caste group among them is the Satnami. There are six constituencies in the state where Dalit voters account for more than 50 per cent of the electorate. Twelve seats are reserved for Dalits.

Laloo Prasad’s wit seems to have rubbed off on Jogi in his mission to woo the Dalits. At rallies, the chief minister has been cracking jokes in rustic Chhattisgarhi, taking a leaf out of his friend’s campaign in Bhojpuri Hindi in the villages of Bihar. Moreover, Jogi’s mixed parentage — his father is a Satnami and his mother a tribal — has brought him closer to the Bihar strongman’s brand of caste politics.

Jogi’s detractors are already talking about his new “Laloo avatar”. “Jogi has strange friends like (former Uttar Pradesh chief minister) Mayavati and Laloo, who do not see eye to eye among themselves,” said Raman Singh, the state BJP chief.

Even the man on the street feels that “Jogi is trying to do a Laloo in Chhattisgarh by playing along caste lines and creating social polarisation”.

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