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Man Friday for all seasons

- How a fair price shop owner became Lalu’s trusted lieutenant

Patna, March 11: From being the owner of a fair price shop, Ram Kripal Yadav has travelled a long way to become one of the recognised faces of Bihar politics.

The man at the centre of the storm in the RJD took his first tentative steps in politics when he was made ward commissioner and later the deputy mayor of Patna in the eighties.

RJD workers and office-bearers still cannot come to terms with the prospect of life in the party without Ram Kripal, who for almost a quarter of a century was seen as the closest aide of Lalu Prasad and was treated as a member of his family. No wonder then that Misa Bharati, Lalu’s daughter whose nomination as the candidate from Pataliputra has sparked off the rebellion, still addresses him as “chacha (uncle)”.

The 56-year-old Ram Kripal has thrice been a Lok Sabha member and is currently in the Rajya Sabha. Defeated in the 1990 Assembly polls (by Ramanand Yadav, at present an RJD MLA), Ram Kripal was first elected from the now delimited Patna Lok Sabha seat in a bypoll in 1993. He contested as an Independent backed by the Janata Dal and was allotted the cup and plate as symbol. It was during this election that his proximity to Lalu Prasad grew. Lalu, then chief minister who had emerged as the champion of the downtrodden classes, intensively campaigned for Ram Kripal — sipping tea from a cup and plate publicly to make his voters familiar with his candidate’s electoral symbol.

Since then, Lalu and Ram Kripal have been inseparable. Until Lalu announced Misa’s candidature, Ram Kripal had stood like a rock beside the RJD chief even as other party leaders started deserting him. He wept publicly whenever Lalu went to jail in connection with the fodder scam case.

“If Ram Kripal is still called chacha by the sons and daughters of Lalu and Rabri and the RJD chief declares that he will not initiate action against Ram Kripal, it is not without reason. Ram Kripal was with Lalu and his family at every moment of crisis. He virtually ran the party. He did not insist on getting the Pataliputra Lok Sabha seat, carved out of the old Patna constituency, in 2009 because Lalu Prasad himself was contesting. But giving away the seat nurtured by Ram Kripal to his daughter was injustice,” said an office-bearer of the RJD.

RJD leaders are aware of the importance of Ram Kripal. “He was a bridge between party workers and Lalu. In spite of being a Rajya Sabha MP, he remained an ordinary worker. Whenever there was a rally and meeting in Patna, one would have found him roaming in the night ensuring that banners, posters and welcome gates are put up. Whenever a protest had to be organised, it was he who gathered and galvanised party workers who would execute the wishes of Lalu Prasad,” said a former MLC of the party.

As MP, Ram Kripal is known to be highly accessible to his voters. “He does not miss any marriage or religious event. All a voter has to do is to give him an invitation card. He will be present. During the wedding season, he attends over two dozen marriage ceremonies held across Patna every night. As MP of Patna, he used to be available to his voters every morning at Gandhi Maidan when he would go for his morning walks. He used to be seen signing petitions. His accessibility to his voters makes him likeable across all sections of the people, even those who are not RJD voters,” said the former MLC.

During his brother’s marriage last year, Ram Kripal invited 5,000 people. More than 25,000 people turned up, forcing the club where the wedding had been organised to express its helplessness over handling the situation. The ceremony had to be shifted to an adjoining maidan.

In spite being in the RJD, Ram Kripal has never allowed bitterness to creep into his relationship with Opposition leaders. He maintained a friendly relationship with the BJP and JD(U) leaders. It is no wonder that when he made public his intention to rebel and contest against Misa, both the BJP and JD(U) made statements welcoming him to their parties.

Now that Ram Kripal is set to join the BJP on Wednesday, the former man Friday of Lalu will start a new innings without Lalu.