Maner (Pataliputra), April 15: The heat is such, it is burning up the standing stalks of wheat. The air conditioning in Misa Bharti’s road-ragged SUV is turned to “high cold” but she’s sweating in the front seat. Cooling doesn’t work when the windows have to be kept rolled down; rolling them up doesn’t work when you’re trying to catch each extended hand, smile at each approaching face, wear each garland flung at you.
The campaign is lurching to a close in Pataliputra’s rural outback, there isn’t much more Misa can do on her final spin than sweat a little more in her seat, bat away a few more flies, swig a few more draughts of a home concoction.
“There isn’t even time to eat today,” Misa mutters to herself, “sab kuchh gaadi mein hi karna hoga... Everything will have to be done in the car.” She isn’t getting down, she tells her driver, as a cluster of supporters appears down the road. “Chalte rahiye... keep going.”
The driver turns to her and nods but tells her he doesn’t know where to go. “Someone said Punpun, someone said Maner, someone said Phulwari, the road forks ahead, so which way?” Misa doesn’t know either. “Chalte rahiye,” she says again. She sticks her head out of the window, cranes her neck into more garlands, grins widely and urges the driver on.
“Chalte rahiye naa.”
Misa’s campaign managers have made a mess of the final day’s route, each negotiating a contrary itinerary. Misa doesn’t want to lose time, stalled at a desolate crossroads, while others decide which way she must head. Misa is not merely making her first bid for the Lok Sabha, she is bidding to wrest succession in father Lalu Prasad’s RJD. She wins this old Lalu pocket borough and she shoots to the front of the party. She loses and she risks relegation to ambitious siblings.
Misa has lots of family to beat. Brothers Tejaswi and Tej Pratap, both of whom have sprung political wings. And here in Pataliputra, two elders she has grown up watching in her father’s power sanctums — Ranjan Yadav of the JD(U) and Ram Kripal Yadav of the BJP. The former was Lalu’s first brains trust and broker, a cowherd teacher who foolishly believed he could mastermind Lalu and got tossed out on his ear. The latter a trusted lieutenant for decades who believed, foolishly again, that the electoral bar on Lalu would make him the automatic RJD choice for Pataliputra. Lalu turned to his daughter, Ram Kripal had to turn to the BJP.
Of the two, Misa only addresses Ram Kripal as “chacha”, but in truth she has avuncular, and familiar, opponents in both. “But neither is on the contest,” she says almost wistfully, as if she would have relished one.
“The sitting MP (Ranjan Yadav) has barely stepped into this place and thinks he can win this burning phone lines, and chacha has no mudda (issue). How will he, tell me? Technically he is still an RJD member of the Rajya Sabha and he is riding a BJP ticket, what a paradox.”
The route has been resolved by now. We are headed towards Maner, 30-odd kilometres west of Patna, through hamlet and country, past the formidable shell of what will become the Patna block of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), past the Muslim seminary township of Phulwari Sharif, an alluvial swathe between the Ganga and the Punpun rivers, where the Narendra Modi banner is attempting a resounding debut.
“Moodyji, Moodyji!” Misa exclaims when the name eventually, but inevitably, crops up. “I call him Moodyji, today I have no family, another day I have a wife, today I am butchering minorities, another day I want bhaichara. How is one to take such a man seriously? Frankly, on my campaign, I found Moodyji a waste of time. People have other concerns, basic things like water, roads, electricity, schools, hospitals, where does our Moodyji figure in all this? Moodyji isn’t here anywhere, these are our people, they speak our language, not Moodyji’s.”
Pataliputra’s electoral dynamics probably spell out why Lalu picked it for his eldest child even at the cost of losing an old friend. Its most aggressive votaries are Yadavs and Muslims who make up a little more than 30 per cent of the vote. The rest is made up by an odd medley of castes that seldom ever hangs together. Hog the traditional RJD vote and you’re through.
But are you? Isn’t Modi an X factor tossing up old equations and spinning out new ones? Misa waves her hand dismissively. “I told you, I wish there was a contest. This constituency is my family, in every village I have a chachi or a mama or a friend from childhood, nobody knows this place better than us.”
The crown of marigolds atop Misa’s eight-seater has become a mound so unwieldy garlands fly off to the side when we gather speed. Every stop is a blizzard of garlands blowing in the car windows, and a pirouette of “Misa didi zindabad!!” Each stop is two minutes, no more, each stop Misa says “Chalte rahiye!” This is the last day of her first bid for election and a long road lies ahead.