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Lalu scores on Nitish’s popularity dip

Ara (Bhojpur), Jan. 4: The RJD chief, Lalu Prasad, seems to have reinvented his crowd-pulling charisma and his usual exuberance. On the concluding day of his Parivartan Yatra in central Bihar, he addressed a huge gathering under the balmy January sun at the Ramna grounds here today.

The large number of people at the rally was no surprise. The crowds in Lalu’s meetings have been swelling for some time now. However, the increase does not appear to be due to Lalu’s increasing popularity. It is because of Nitish’s dwindling popularity, as steps taken by his government have hit the interest of at least a section of population.

In Rohtas, the government has stopped stone mining, leaving thousands jobless.

In Bhojpur, the citadel of Ranvir Sena activists, their supporters are angry because they allege that Nitish did not refer the Mukhiya’s case to the CBI. People opposed to the erstwhile Ranvir Sena are angry with Nitish, alleging that he was going soft on the Sena and its leaders.

In places like Aurangabad, people are angry because they allege that they did not get adequate prices for their land acquired for government projects. All these factors have made people go to Lalu’s public meetings under the programme he christened Parivartan Yatra.

And Lalu is loving it. It was evident today at Ramna grounds. The embattled RJD chief managed to put up an impressive show augmented with all the colours and cacophony of earthy songs and instruments — dugdugi, desi drums, cymbals and dhols at the volatile venues of central Bihar, which chief minister Nitish Kumar skipped twice fearing violent protests in the wake of Ranvir Sena chief Brahmeshwar Mukhiya’s killing in June last year.

But Lalu struck an emotional chord with the people.

“Nitish ko samajhna chahiye jo log phool chadhata hai wohi joota-chappal bhi chalata hai… har isthiti mein janata ke saath rahne chahiye (Nitish should understand that the people who shower you will flowers throw shoes at you when they get angry. A people’s leaders should be among his people all the time),” Lalu roared.

Then came his punchline: “My masters! You made me the tallest leader in the world by letting me to rule Bihar for 15 years. I have come to you to beg pardon if I have done anything wrong with you in those years. Upper castes, Dalits, backwards, Muslims, I had equal eyes for all. I admit that I was foul-mouthed. That I still am. But I was not chhali (crafty) as he (Nitish) is — I never played chaal (tricks) as he (Nitish) is playing”.

The people’s response and also Lalu’s mood was quite in contrast to the ones during his meetings at Raghopur, Daraunda and other places he addressed during the 2010 Assembly elections and bypolls in subsequent years.

Arey aao, baat suno (Please come, listen to me),” a forlorn Lalu was seen shouting near a home at a Daraunda village and finding to his dismay the people not turning up during the 2011 by-election. Here at Ramna grounds, over 30,000 people were jostling to catch a glimpse of Lalu and hear what he was saying while the people and vehicles were milling all around the streets.

Speaking from the dais amid a rousing reception and intermittent clapping, what Lalu might not have noticed is the fact that a large section in the crowed was very watchful and contemplative.

“We have gathered here just to see and hear Lalu. We are unhappy that Nitish has failed to contain corruption all around. We are also unhappy at the way the government is handling Mukhiya’s killing. We are utterly dissatisfied at the price we are getting for the acquisition of our lands for building highways. We are unhappy that our paddy is not procured at the promised price. Still, we have not forgotten what Lalu did to us and Bihar. He (Lalu) has his wisdom in his foot and it is still risky to fall for his charms. We still expect Nitish to do make amends. After all, he is a performing neta (leader)”, said a Rajput youth at Lalu’s meet.