| Laloo Prasad Yadav at the lathi rally in Patna with wife and chief minister Rabri Devi. (AFP)
Patna, April 30: Five hundred thousand lathis glistened in the midday sun. As Laloo Prasad Yadav stepped off the dais at Gandhi Maidan, a lathi on his shoulder, every man in the crowd followed him.
“Chahe koi mujhe junglee kahe (Let them call me a wild animal),” he roared. The crowd roared their approval.
“In villages, like in politics of this country, the dogs and jackals have joined hands. Hence, the dogs don’t bark when the jackal ambles around and tries to go for the kill. The country is, therefore, not safe,” the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief said, alluding to the alliance of the BJP and some of its allies in the NDA.
“That is why we need lathis,” he added, refuting allegations that he had called the “lathials to terrorise the BJP in Bihar”.
But for all his claims, the rally could not keep violence out, as the entry of a few lakh lathi-wielding people in the capital coincided with killings and violence in both Patna and neighbouring Danapur.
In Danapur, a senior BJP leader, Satyanarayan Singh Yadav, was killed this morning. Last night, in a separate incident, a brother of a former RJD leader, Raj Kumar Yadav, was killed in Patna’s R-block area.
Violence flared in Danapur’s Khagaul area around 10.30 am after Yadav was shot, allegedly by RJD activists, following a gun battle. Police had to fire several rounds in the air to bring an irate mob under control.
Bihar director-general of police Rituraj said that Yadav, a BJP candidate in the last bypoll in Danapur, sustained bullet injuries when BJP and RJD supporters fired at each after clashing with lathis.
According to the DIG, a group of RJD activists led by local panchayat mukhia Reet Lal Yadav opened fire at the BJP leader but missed him. The BJP supporters returned fire on a rally which was on its way to Patna. Yadav was killed in the ensuing exchange of fire, Rituraj told reporters.
As news of the murder spread, about 500 supporters of the slain leader assembled near Khagaul and started brickbatting the police and RJD workers. They stoned the house of a relative of Laloo Prasad and burnt at least 12 buses that were supposed to take RJD supporters to Patna for the rally.
BJP leader Sushil Modi, who visited the spot, alleged that the murder was an act of political vendetta perpetrated by the RJD. In Delhi, parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj assured NDA members that the Centre would seek a report from the Bihar government on the killing.
But at the rally, Laloo Prasad claimed that the BJP leader’s supporters were the first to open fire. “We don’t know who killed him but we know that he had a criminal background,” he said.
Last night, however, rivalry within the RJD claimed Raj Kumar Yadav. The cousin of former MLA Ranvir Yadav was shot dead in a city block. RJD insiders claimed the murder was a result of intra-party feud.
But the blood-letting failed to dampen Laloo Prasad’s rhetoric against the BJP at the rally.
In his characteristic mix of rhetoric and rustic wit, the RJD chief linked Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and US President George W. Bush in a clarion call for — “Bush bhagao, duniya bachao, BJP bhagao, desh bachao (Drive out Bush, save the world, Drive out the BJP, save the country)”.
He gazed intently as one of his MLAs, Rajballav Yadav, presented a 40-ft long “mega lathi” that weighed about one tonne. It had been cut out of the stem of a big tree.