Ranchi, Sept. 30: He may be a convicted conniver, but just like samosa and alu, popularity and Lalu were, are and perhaps will remain inseparable.
RJD leaders and supporters thronged the premises of Birsa Munda Central Jail in Hotwar as the white Ambassador ferrying the former chief minister to prison from court groaned to a halt on the driveway on Monday afternoon.
Acting jail superintendent D.K. Pandey and SDM Amit Kumar were present to escort their high-profile prisoner.
In his signature white kurta-pyjama, albeit his trademark repartees conspicuously missing, the RJD chief stepped out of the car, mopped his brow and — unmindful of greetings voiced by partymen and even jail guards — stepped inside.
Lalu, allotted a room in the VIP ward, would have had Madhu Koda as neighbour had the former Jharkhand chief minister not secured bail recently. Though these special cells have no numbers, Lalu’s is the first in the row and hence, informally, No. 1. Koda, also a crowd-puller in his own right, had been lodged in No. 9.
The RJD leader’s room in the upper division ward, which unconfirmed sources said was never occupied before, has a bed, a fan, a dining table, a plastic jug and an attached bathroom. He is also entitled to newspapers and books of his choice.
A jail official said the former Bihar chief minister betrayed his usual nature and kept to himself. “He (Lalu) did not talk to anyone. So far, he has not taken food either. But, he appears calm,” the official said around 3pm, more than two hours after the fodder scam convict arrived at his new address.
Outside the imposing gate of the central prison, support swelled for the jailed leader.
Brother-in-law Sadhu and RJD veteran Abdul Bari Siddique, along with a bunch of supporters, occupied a corner. “Hum log jaldi higher court jayenge. Main is kathin ghadi mein parivar ke saath hu. (We will soon move a higher court. I am with the family in these difficult times),” said Sadhu.
“Annapurna andar gayee hain (Annapurna went inside),” hollered a woman, standing near the outer gate along with a few other RJD leaders. She was Kanti Singh, a former Union minister and Lalu’s close aide, and was referring to social welfare minister and RJD leader Annapurna Devi.
Annapurna had arrived before Lalu, but had chosen to sit in her car parked on the roadside, away from media glare. She was allowed to meet her boss some 20 minutes after he had stepped inside the jail.
“Party ke sab log Laluji ke saath hain. Verdict se pehle unhone kaha tha ki unki anupasthiti mein party ka har aadmi unki tarah banega (All partymen are with Laluji. Before the verdict, he had told us that in his absence everyone would be inspired to grow into a leader like him),” said RJD leader Jai Prakash.
Lalu’s son Tejaswi, who had firmly stood behind his beleaguered father at the special CBI court, reached the jail around 1.30pm and joined other leaders in legal discussions.
Quite like the special CBI court, the central prison too had been turned into a virtual fortress, with the wall of security stretching a kilometre till Jaipal Singh Munda Mega Sports Complex.
Nearly 40 minutes after the jail gates had closed on Lalu, the other key accused and former chief minister of Bihar Jagannath Mishra reached the prison, almost unnoticed. He was lodged in the VIP ward, next to Lalu. Later, the veteran leader was moved to RIMS with hypertension. “His BP is on the higher side. More tests are on,” said a RIMS doctor.