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Rallies then & now, change in conduct

Patna, May 14: When the RJD was getting ready for the Lathi Rally in 2003, a well-known Patna doctor was on his way to his native place in Bhagalpur. On the way, he met an MLA of the party, who not only roughed up the medic but also seized his car, telling him that it would be returned when the rally got over.

It took a verbal lashing from RJD chief Lalu Prasad for the legislator to return the car to the doctor.

Lalu’s party will host another rally at Gandhi Maidan — his favourite venue for large political gatherings — tomorrow. It would be his ninth public show at the green patch in the heart of the city. But like its name (Parivartan), a lot seems to have changed in the demeanour of the party and its members.

In the 1960s and ’70s, the CPI used to host the largest rallies in Patna. “Then, people used to come on their own. Now, participants are ferried to the venue, the organisers ensure that they are fed and have a roof over their heads. Arrangements are also made for their entertainment,” said CPI state secretary Rajendra Prasad Singh, adding that crowds are “hired” for rallies these days.

Lalu changed the logistics of political meetings — integral part of his politics — in the 1990s. After coming to power in 1990, he held the Mandal Rally, projecting himself as a leader of the backward castes. After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, he held the Sadbhavna Rally in 1994 to send a message to the minority voters (who still form the core of his support base).

The Garib Rally was held in 1996 to thank people from the economically backward classes who had helped him come to power. Then the RJD organised the Gareeb Railla and Bhandaphor Rally. In 2003, his party hosted the infamous Lathi Rally.

A senior party leader recalled the anxiety among the people as well as the authorities about it. “Then governor, Vinod Chandra Pande, wanted the Lathi Rally to be cancelled because of the fear it had created among the people,” he said. “An RJD delegation led by Lalu met him and explained that lathis (bamboo sticks) symbolise honour and respect. When Biharis go to negotiate marriages, they carry lathis and umbrellas, which are also kept in the puja room.”

Lalu wanted to organise the Khabardar Rally in 2004 but it was cancelled as the code of conduct for the Assembly elections had been enforced. Not to be dissuaded, he hosted the Chetawni Rally at Gandhi Maidan in 2007.

“Each rally was not just a show of strength but also carried a political message for his (Lalu’s) supporters,” said RJD MP Ram Kripal Yadav.

But they were also surrounded by chaos and controversy. Reports of the government machinery being used to make the rallies a success were rife. Government and private buses were forcefully taken to transport RJD supporters to Patna. They were provided accommodation in government schools and public parks. To entertain them, nautch girls were hired. Extortion demands were also allegedly made to businessmen and professionals.

With the Parivartan Rally, however, Lalu and the RJD are trying to not only revive their insipid political fortunes but also to bring about a parivartan (borrowed from the campaign slogan used by Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to oust the 34-year-old Left Front government from power in the neighbouring state) in their image.

A former RJD MP said: “Lalu has two challenges for this rally. First, he has to ensure a huge turnout and prove that he still matters in the state politics. He also has to ensure that there is no rowdy behaviour or vandalism.”

So far, they have stuck to the rules set by the Patna administration. The RJD chief met the district magistrate and the superintendent of police on Sunday to work out logistical details to ensure that the mega meeting does not disturb regular activity in the city. The party has been at pains to advertise how the participants are expected to behave. Dancers and indecent acts are a strict no-no.

“Despite what the JD(U) and the BJP leaders have been saying, there has not been a single case of extortion or unlawful act reported against us anywhere in the state,” said RJD’s Ram Kripal.


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