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regular-article-logo Thursday, 13 June 2024

Ready for Lalu Prasad's 'guerrilla warfare', Rajiv Pratap Rudy braces for headwinds in Saran

Over and above, Rudy faces an old warhorse, Lalu Prasad. Himself disqualified from contesting after his conviction in a fodder scam case, Lalu has fielded his 44-year-old daughter, Rohini Acharya, who do­nated one of her kidneys to the father last year to give him a new lease of life

J.P. Yadav Published 20.05.24, 07:03 AM
Saran’s sitting MP Rajiv Pratap Rudy addresses BJP workers at his residence.  

Saran’s sitting MP Rajiv Pratap Rudy addresses BJP workers at his residence.   Pictures by JP Yadav

Rajiv Pratap Rudy has news to share, both good and worrying. “I have very very good news and also a ‘chinta janak’ (a matter of concern) news to share with you,” Rudy, 62, tells a large group of the BJP’s polling booth-level workers, who had been patiently waiting for two hours in a hall in the compound of his residence in Amnour under Saran district last Wednesday.

But first, he apologises to the party’s foot-soldiers for being late — it was almost 4pm and the meeting was scheduled for 2pm — but he had good reason for the delay.

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“Let me share the good news first. I am sure you all will be happy to learn that Yogiji (Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath) has agreed to come here and address a campaign meeting,” he says, as the hall reverberates with applause, adding that he was busy finalising the date with Yogiji’s office and hence he got late.

“We are among the lucky few to first have Prime Minister Modiji and now Yogiji,” he adds. Modi addressed a rally in Saran Lok Sabha constituency on May 13; Yogi did so on Friday, a day before campaigning ended on Saturday.

After Modi, the saffron-robed monk is the most sought-after by BJP candidates. Rudy needs the duo more than others, aware possibly that he is up against an accumulated two-term voter anger against him.

“Both, in 2014 and 2019, Rudyji had an easy ride due to the ‘Modi lahar’ (Modi wave),” says Ramadhar Singh, a farmer in Sonepur. “Abki Modi aur Bhagwan dono ka kripa hoga tabhi Rudy jeetenge (This time, Rudy can win only if he gets the blessings of both Modi and God),” adds the 67-year-old , accusing the incumbent of neglecting the electorate of Saran.

Over and above, Rudy faces an old warhorse, Lalu Prasad. Himself disqualified from contesting after his conviction in a fodder scam case, Lalu has fielded his 44-year-old daughter, Rohini Acharya, who do­nated one of her kidneys to the father last year to give him a new lease of life. But more than anyone else, Rudy kn­ows that it is Lalu, who had defeated him from the seat in 2004 and 2009, is the one he is battling.

“This is Laluji’s guerrilla warfare against me,” Rudy tells The Telegraph, acknowledging that the daughter was only a ‘mask’.

Lalu, despite being advised by doctors to avoid physical and mental strain (due to the kidney transplant), has been camping in Saran (90km from his Patna home), micromanaging the polls, to reclaim the pocket borough that had catapulted him into the political mainstream 47 years ago in 1977, the post-Emergency elections.

RJD patriarch Lalu Prasad meets voters at the party's central election office on the outskirts of Chhapra town.

RJD patriarch Lalu Prasad meets voters at the party's central election office on the outskirts of Chhapra town. Picture by JP Yadav

Rudy koi cheez nahi hai…Hamara ladai Modi se hai aur Chhapra [the old name of the constituency] me Modi harega (Rudy is not of any worth…My battle is against Modi and Modi will lose in Chhapra),” Lalu told The Telegraph on Thursday, sitting in the RJD central election office in the constituency. He was asked if his daughter, a debutant, faces a tough fight against a seasoned politician like Rudy.

Rohini, who lives with her husband in Singapore, where Lalu’s kidney transplant was done, has been travelling around villages and markets of this predominantly rural seat, greeting voters with folded hands. “I am not only Laluji and Rabri Devi’s daughter but also your daughter and sister. I need your blessings,” she has been heard telling the voters, trying to draw sympathy, without making any reference to the widely publicised act of her donating one of her kidneys to her father.

Now, it was time for Rudy to share the “chinta janak (worrying)” news with his workers. “Sankat ye hai, ki pichle Lok Sabha me Saran Lok Sabha me 16 lakh voters thhey. Paanch saal me, 2 lakh badhke ye sankhya badhkar 18 lakh ho gaya hai (The danger is that in 2019, Saran had 16 lakh voters. In the last five years, the number has increased by 2 lakh and stands at 18 lakh now),” he says, adding that this happened when “hamari sarkar nahi thi (when our government in Bihar was not there)”. This was an oblique bid to point fingers at Lalu’s son Tejashwi Yadav, who was deputy chief minister of Bihar for 17 months from August 2022 to January this year, before chief minister Nitish Kumar jumped ship again and aligned with the BJP.

Rudy went on to scale up the “danger”. “A careful an­alysis shows that the voter increase has mostly been at polling booths where the MY (Muslim-Yadav) voters have a dominant presence,” he adds, spreading concern on the faces of the cadres. On the screen, the tech-savvy incumbent presents samples of some booths where the “unusual increase” has taken place.

“You don’t have to worry ‘ek paisa’ till Rajiv Pratap Rudy is here,” he assuages his workers.

“We also have Muslim and Yadav workers in our party but at the same time we have to fight against this MY combination,” he says.

“We have to work harder and add 50 (pro-BJP) votes at each and every polling booth,” he tells the workers and asks: “Can we do it?”. The workers respond “Ji, kar sakte hain”.

To pep up the workers, Rudy, a commercial aircraft captain dramatically flashes clips of him flying a fighter aircraft on the screen. Even louder applause breaks out.

Realising that all this may not be enough to charge up the cadres, whose enthusiasm can make or mar fortunes on polling day, Rudy goes a step further, in typical heartland Bihari style.

“If any administrative official troubles you, just tell them ‘hum Rudy ke aadmi hai’ (we are Rudy’s people),” he says.

The captain is in command but will it be a bumpy flight?

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