The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Leaning on lathi to throw out trident

Patna, April 21: From lantern to lathi, and all for votes.

Years ago, Laloo Prasad Yadav had turned the lantern into a poll symbol. It clicked and he rode to power.

Now, the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief hopes to revive the magic of those days with another ingenious symbol — the lathi — and pit it against the trishul in his “political fight with the BJP”.

On their chief’s order, RJD workers across Bihar today observed a unique ritual. They massaged oil on their lathis and put them under a blazing sun before taking them back inside. Come April 30, they will converge in Patna for a massive rally — all carrying their sticks.

“I will put it on my shoulder like an ordinary, poor Bihari and go to the rally on April 30,” said the RJD boss, who brought out a long lathi at 12 sharp. He oiled the stick as a camera caught the action before turning to the waiting reporters. “Lathi is the pride of the poor in rural Bihar,” he told them. “And the BJP is nervous.”

RJD workers are ready with their battle cry. “BJP bhagao, desh bachao, Bush bhagao, duniya bachao,” chants a party worker. For them, the BJP and the US President are common enemies. So both have to be driven out if the country and the world are to be saved.

For that, unity is the need of the hour and the lathi is its symbol.

Predictably, it has raised the hackles of the BJP. If Rajasthan’s Congress government could arrest VHP leader Praveen Togadia for distributing trishuls, the party is demanding that Laloo Prasad, too, be put behind bars.

Sushil Modi, leader of Opposition in the Bihar Assembly, says the RJD is trying to incite people to violence.

BJP national general secretary Rajnath Singh, in charge of political affairs in Bihar, has urged Governor V.C. Pande to send a report to the Centre. The former Uttar Pradesh chief minister even appealed to the President to intervene.

“Laloo Yadav is realising that he is fast losing ground. He, therefore, wants to kick up a mass hysteria against the BJP to recover some of his lost ground,” he said. “This is a provocative way of fighting us politically. Imagine one lakh people carrying lathis on their shoulders and coming to Patna. A small spark could ignite a conflagration.”

Modi’s appeal to the Governor included newspaper reports from Gaya, where rival RJD workers fought among themselves with lathis in front of Laloo Prasad during a district-level meeting last week. Two MLAs and a minister were injured.

“When they could do it in Gaya where the gathering was so small, what will happen here where about a lakh people would gather'” he asked.

But Laloo Prasad is unperturbed. “In rural Bihar, lathis used to be a unique companion to people. A rural Bihari would run miles alone carrying one. He would measure river water with it before crossing it and chase away barking dogs. They would carry this when they visited their relatives,” he said.

The BJP, he says in a parting shot, is such a rootless party that it cannot understand the implications of a true tradition.

But a veteran socialist, who was once his companion, has a question. “Laloo Yadav’s only embarrassment is that the RSS cadre, who he hates so much politically, made use of lathis,” he said. “Why is he resorting to this symbolism like the Hindutva school'”

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