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Laloo fires on all cylinders
- RJD chief taps fauj for tough battle

West and East Champaran, Feb. 15: From development to Godhra and Indo-Pak relations, feudalism to 'Bihari' pride, 'renegades' to 'vote katuas' (spoilers) ' Laloo Prasad Yadav pulled out all the arrows from his political quiver as he braced himself for the last round of battle in 93 seats of Bihar.

If the BJP was attacked for 'dividing the hearts and minds of the followers of Ram and Rahim', Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan were not spared for 'betraying' their mentor (Laloo Prasad) and other reasons.

The Congress alone was not on his radar of criticism.

A flunkey who suggested that Sonia Gandhi had not pulled such crowds in her meetings in Bihar was put down with a cold stare.

As he addressed 10 chopper-stop meetings yesterday in East and West Champaran, bordering Nepal, it was apparent that Laloo Prasad was under siege again: not just from the 'communal' forces but his former 'secular' allies too. But at his best under duress, the RJD chief had the crowds enthralled and amused by turn.

As he screamed out orders and settled restive boys in place or improvised his jokes, there was a political message in every gesture he made and every witticism he uttered.

When he wrapped up his day with a packed meeting in Motihari's Sports Club Stadium and saw the crowd off not with a wave of the hand but a clenched fist, it was clear why they meant everything to him: 'They are my fauj (army). Now I am ready to fight the most difficult battle.'

The pressure of Paswan and, to a lesser extent, Mulayam Singh Yadav poaching on his minority votes told on him as he revived Godhra over and over again.

'When people died in the Godhra train carnage, it was alleged that Muslims had burnt the Hindu kar sevaks. Yet, Nitish Kumar (then railway minister) did not visit the place nor did he order a probe. Then came the Gujarat riots.

'You must have heard over radio about Pakistan not wanting to play a cricket match in Gujarat. These people (the Shiv Sena) had threatened to destroy the pitch if Pakistan played India on Indian soil. They are not only destroying a cricket pitch but the foundation of our secular polity. Because Hindus and Muslims fought the battle for Independence shoulder to shoulder,' he said.

The man who scoffed at development now had this slogan for the voters: 'Now that we have captured Delhi, development will come to Bihar. Abhi nahin to kabhi nahin (It is now or never).' The subtext was borrowed from the Congress' campaign in Maharashtra: better to have the same party/parties in power at the Centre and the state.

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