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Blinded by love, Laloo unfazed

Patna, Feb. 12: As the warmth from the angeethi spreads to his tired feet after a cruel day's travel, Laloo Prasad Yadav speaks of love ' love of his people in Bihar.

'People will understand Laloo is their son, they love me, they understand me. They know it is only Laloo who will give them heaven on earth and send them to heaven. Laloo means self-respect, honour and equality.'

It's a word that has been heard often from Laloo Prasad over the past 15 years his party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, has been in power and the years before.

Poverty and the lack of development worry him as he heads into another election where some have already written his epitaph, and not for the first time, but then there is love.

And there is bitterness. For Ram Vilas Paswan and for the Congress, to a lesser extent, his allies in the United Progressive Alliance in Delhi but enemies in the Assembly election in Bihar.

Laloo Prasad, speaking to The Telegraph at the residence of chief minister Rabri Devi, warms to the theme, sitting with his feet turned towards the huge fireplace that is really an earthenware oven.

Bihar, he said, had turned into a 'free-for-all' for pugilistic politicians. 'Why should the Congress sacrifice anything for me' I told them let it be a free-for-all. Bihar is a land for political experimentation.'

Laloo Prasad is clear, however, that conflict in Bihar would not cause collapse in Delhi.

'The results will have no effect on the Centre because I am not a foolish politician like Paswan or Mulayam Singh Yadav. Those fighting against me will be exposed. Power-sharing is always determined by the strength of a party, that's the dharma of coalition,' he said, borrowing a phrase from BJP president L.K. Advani's political dictionary.

He said the BJP had plotted a 'khel' (game) to divide the Congress-led coalition. '(Atal Bihari) Vajpayee was told by some tantriks that he would become PM again.'

'But I am not dependent on anyone. I will form the government with a thumping majority and I am very, very satisfied.'

With that assertion he refused to countenance the suggestion that the results may throw up a hung house in which event he may be forced to support someone outside his party like Paswan as chief minister to keep the 'secular' banner aloft.

'That's nonsense and hypothetical,' he said airily.

Laloo Prasad explained why he was so optimistic. 'Always everybody is saying, Laloo going, going, gone. They (the Opposition and media) attacked me on the kidnapping of Kislay (Gupta). But the name of a Janata Dal (United) MLA figures in the case, not the RJD's.'

The Opposition is calling for an end to 15 years of 'jungle raj and misrule'. But Laloo Prasad is claiming that after years of 'non-cooperation' from the previous National Democratic Alliance dispensation, the current government 'generously' released funds for Bihar.

The figures rolled rapidly: Rs 360 crore for power transmission lines, which will be set up by the National Thermal Power Corporation, Rs 1,000 crore each for rural electrification and highways, Rs 300 crore for the Koshi canal and so on.

In social indices, he claimed the RJD government had set records ' a 12 per cent literacy growth over the last decade, the 'highest' a state has achieved in this period, 7 per cent rural connectivity over the same time and a drop in the numbers living below the poverty line.

Laloo Prasad said the 'class' composition of traditional institutions of power and patronage like development councils, zilla panchayats and town corporations had changed with representatives of the 'lower' classes dominating them.

'That is the sorest point for my opponents. They cannot bear to see how the social order has drastically changed because they hate the poor,' he said.

Behind the confidence he tried hard to exude there is the realisation that he is up against a real challenge in this election. His ire was directed against Paswan, the Lok Janshakti Party leader, who has reportedly dented his Muslim vote bank. He felt betrayed by the Congress, but Sonia Gandhi had been misled by elements in her party who were not her well-wishers.

'He (Paswan) has no base vote. Bihar has a 60 to 70 per cent Dalit vote and not all Paswan voters are with him. Forget Yadavs, the poor are with Laloo. They come to my meetings, hear me out and then vote. That is the bottomline in an election. People may come to listen to any neta, but do they transfer their votes' asked the RJD leader.

He tells them: 'Bihar ka kabza hua Delhi mein, ab Bihar badlega (Now that Bihar has captured Delhi, things will change for the better in Bihar).'

And he's hoping one thing will not change ' 'love'.

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