|Upset villagers at Phulwaria village in Bihar on Monday.
Picture by Sanjay Kumar Abhay
Phulwaria, (Gopalganj), Sept. 30: When the news broke this morning, one decision was unanimous. The whole village would skip lunch.
A “tragedy” had befallen their “ablest son” and no smoke would rise from any oven. “Hum log aaj khana nahin khaingein…. Chulha nahin jalega…. Allah se dua karengein (we will not take lunch. Ovens will not be lit. We will pray to Allah),” said Sagir Hussein, who sells vegetable for a living at Gopalganj bazaar.
Morning had broken on Phulwaria, Lalu Prasad’s native village in north Bihar’s Gopalganj district, in a restless haze of anxiety. Kaki (aunt) Phuljharo Devi, 79, older cousins Indrasen Yadav, 80, and Harishankar Yadav, 70; and nephew Ramanand Yadav, 42, had gathered under a 100-year-old peepal tree in front of the RJD chief’s home since 9am. Youths milled a little distance away, mobiles pressed to their ears for news of what was happening at the court in Ranchi, over 500km away.
The uncertainty ended at 11am: the court had pronounced Lalu Prasad and some 40 others guilty in a fodder scam case. “Yeh to ghar ke sabse kabil sawang par afat padne jaisa hai, hum Allah se dua karte hain ke Lalu jaldi se es bibatti se bahar aajaein (it is like a tragedy befalling the most efficient member of our family. I pray to Allah to bring him out of this catastrophic situation),” said Wakil Ansari, 55, a labourer, after one of the young men with the mobiles broke the news.
Aunt Phuljharo couldn’t hold back tears. “He is like my son, a piece of my heart. He has done no harm to anyone,” said the unlettered woman. Villagers of Phulwaria, at least most of them, don’t really understand what the scam is all about. “He was naughty… rode on my head and urinated many times when he was young. But I pardoned him for he became the ablest son in the family. I don’t know what crime he has done,” said cousin Indrasen.
So, as the news spread that the court had sent Lalu Prasad to judicial custody, most residents of this 700-home village of Yadavs, Muslims, Brahmins, Bhumihars and baniyas retreated into “mourning” for a son whose bond with the village was more emotional than political.
In his 36-six-year-old career as a lawmaker, Lalu has seldom had a political relationship with either his village or his native district. He made his debut in the Lok Sabha in 1977 from nearby Saran, a seat he stands to lose after his conviction now. In between he also contested from Madhepura (for the Lok Sabha) and from Sonepur, Raghopur and Danapur for the Assembly.
It is not that the RJD was not strong in Gopalganj. Then party leader Adbul Ghafoor represented it in the Lok Sabha twice in the 1990s. Lalu Prasad’s brother-in-law Sadhu Yadav won the seat in 2004 on a party ticket.
“Laluji’s relationship with his native villagers is more emotional than political,” said Phulwaria resident Ram Biswas Dubey, recalling how the former chief minister, carrying food pockets on his head, knocked on every home in the village on the occasion of his brother Gulab Yadav’s shraadh two years ago.
“He has never asked us to vote for him. He has not taken anything from us. He has only given — referral hospital, electricity, block office, land registration office, good road, railway station — without asking for anything,” said nephew Ramanand.
Few among the villagers believe that Lalu could have committed an offence. “We will continue to love him,” said a boy. “He is like a bhagwan to us.” Today, all eyes are on a temple — their “bhagwan” had got the temple built in the nineties, when he still lorded over Bihar.