Giriraj Singh at his Patna residence on Tuesday morning. Picture by Sankarshan Thakur
A country egg hatching in a remote poultry pen has become Giriraj Singh’s thing of armour against invited assault. But we shall come to the eggs presently; first, the reason why this tale’s protagonist is on eggshells.
Such a torrent of censure and rejection he never did expect to descend on him for uttering the “undiluted truth of my heart”. Such a clap of overhead thunder it was, resonating from foe and friend, it left the bellicose Giriraj moping in a corner of his west Patna bungalow.
“I have been told I must hang, I have been told I must be arrested, I have been told I should be charged with treason, I have been told I am anti-national, and nobody is defending me. Everybody, even people in my party, is tearing into me. For what? For telling the truth? I am devastated, this moment has brought me to think if I should leave public life altogether, what’s the point if I cannot say the truth?”
The counter-torrent issuing from Giriraj is in spate. He won’t stop. “I am telling you, and maybe I should not be telling you, but I feel like leaving politics, doing something else. I have probably won the Nawada Lok Sabha seat (polling in Nawada was held on April 10) , but even so, I feel so wronged, I want to give it all up.”
If Giriraj still needs an introduction to the reader, this should suffice: vociferous Narendra Modi advocate and Nitish Kumar baiter even while he was a minister in the Bihar government; unabashed apparatchik of the Sangh parivar’s Hindutva precinct whose first political love, he says, were Mao Zedong and Kanu Sanyal; a feisty rabble-rouser who announced himself to national notoriety last week by telling a crowd at Godda in Jharkhand that those who do not support Modi are better headed for Pakistan.
That provocative dare — “totally misrepresented”, Giriraj pleads — incited anger and indignation far beyond the Godda stage and became cause for widespread condemnation. The BJP’s adversaries bore into it; the BJP, scalded by the remark and petrified it would stain Modi’s carefully constructed moderation of posture, scurried to disown it.
I was in a rural recess of Madhubani in north Bihar the afternoon after Giriraj’s Godda offensive. News of it preceded us in the small village of Korauni-Bhokura; outrage was rippling about. At the local masjid, we met a clutch of villagers, unsettled and raging.
“Am I now being told to head to Pakistan in the twilight of my life?” railed Saifur Rahman “Tamanna”, a former mukhiya. “My grandfather chose to stay in 1947, generations of ours have lived in Hindustan’s embrace, our motherland. Who is anyone to challenge our loyalty and nationality? That man should be sent to jail, that party should be proscribed. Yeh meri mitti hai, yahan paida hua, yaheen dafnaya jaaoonga (This is my soil, I was born here, I shall be buried here).”
On Tuesday, Giriraj sat solitary in his living room, meditating the wrath that had befallen him. He had for company a portrait of the late Pramod Mahajan and three turtles from his village pond flapping about noiselessly in a fish-tank.
My presence was little solace to him. Rolling on the muted television screen was an “et tu” stab at his roiled heart — unequivocal disapproval from Modi of Giriraj’s zealous advocacy of his master’s premiership. It was a “breaking news” flash on ABP News that was quoting Modi as having said: “Nobody can approve what Giriraj has said.”
The scroll ran in a loop across the muted screen. Giriraj seemed transfixed, as if chilled to the bone. “I am in agony, jaise maaniye rajneeti se vimukh ho gaya hoon (It is as if I want to turn my face away from politics.) Pseudo-secularism will divide and destroy this nation, mark my words.”
He is a burly man, Giriraj Singh, he stands above six feet sans footwear, and his build is more like the “chhappan inch ki chhati” that Modi boasts about.
Giriraj is not unfamiliar to causing outcry; he’s done that adeptly these past years, taunting Nitish over Modi from within the Bihar cabinet. But on Tuesday, some trigger within had pressed a rare nerve in him; he was moved to crying, tears became a tributary to his counter-torrent. He took his glasses off and wiped them down. He muttered something about being mortified.
But he quickly recovered bearing and said: “Are Muslims alone secular in this country? And if you call me anti-Muslim, go talk to Muslims I have given shelter in my own house for years. Go talk to a man called Riaz Ahmed. He is a poultry farmer in Mirgunj in Golpalganj district. Go ask Riaz what Giriraj Singh means to him.”
We’ve come now to Giriraj’s armour of country eggs. Riaz, he told me, was a humdrum farmer whose life and economy has been “transformed by my scheme for producing country eggs at zero-cost”.
The scheme, initiated when Giriraj was animal husbandry minister in the Nitish government, apparently involves common-area breeding of country fowl and goats, as a result of which the two species are able to feed on each other’s organic refuse and yield rich eggs and rich meat.
“Ask Riaz what I did for farmers, both Hindus and Muslims, and then tell me if I am anti-Muslim. Would I do anything for Riaz were I communal? I suggested that Shahnawaz Hussain should be the future chief minister of Bihar. Would I do that if I were anti-Muslim? But look at what people are saying about me, think a little about my agony and my state of mind.”
The tears have gone and characteristic certitude has returned to Giriraj’s tone. “What I am against is pseudo-secularism, and I will repeat what I said. Some people in this country believe theirů (revered place) is in Pakistan, and I shall fight them, every nationalist should. That is what I meant with what I said. I am neither clarifying my position nor amending it, what is anti-national is anti-national. Why should Modi or Giriraj Singh become the subject of daily television debates in Pakistan? Because Pakistan wants Modi defeated, it wants a weak India. That is why I mentioned Pakistan.”
So must opposing Modi mean promoting Pakistan? “I have been misunderstood and misrepresented. I am not anti-Muslim, I am not anti-democratic, of course people should have the right to criticise Modi and the BJP, that is the beauty of democracy. But by the same count, why must I suffer in this country for being a nationalist? Why must I not have my say? I am telling you hollow appeasement of Muslims, which the Congress and so called secular parties do, is going to lead this country to disaster. I will not stop saying this.”
Comes the news not long after I have left Giriraj to his turtles that the Election Commission has banned him from saying whatever he wants to during this campaign. It’s moot if his party will protest that, or Giriraj himself, in his current dip of temper, will either. For a start, he has announced he will surrender to Jharkhand police on Thursday on the charge of inflammatory speech-making and spreading hatred. Eggshells make for fragile protection.