Monday, 30th October 2017

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Har Har to Arhar Modi

A cry in the fief of Lalu clan

By Sankarshan Thakur in Raghopur
  • Published 26.10.15
Raju Yadav of Kachchi Dargah: “From Har Har Modi, the Prime Minister has become Arhar (dal) Modi.” Picture by Sankarshan Thakur

Raghopur, Oct. 25: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a crisp new slogan minted after his name, though this one he may not wish to hear.

Last year's winner cry of " Har Har Modi" has acquired a sardonic echo and become "Arhar Modi", a taunt on rocketed dal prices. Fair numbers of those that would rave about him in 2014 find themselves obliged to rage.

Raju Yadav, 40 and unemployed, readily counts himself among them: " Bewakoof banaya garib ko, vote le gaya, mehngai de gaya, Har Har Modi se Arhar Modi ban gaya hai (He befooled the poor, he took away our votes and gave us inflation in return, from Har Har Modi, he has turned into Arhar Modi)."

But don't get me wrong, Raju hastened to add, I don't say this only because I am a Yadav and a votary of the RJD, ask anyone, go ask the poor what they feel about Modi today, go ask if they think he is their man.

From amongst the clutch of men gathered at the Kachchi Dargah crossroads 50 kilometres east of Patna, another ventured forward and said: "Lalu rose and fell in Bihar because people had turned against him, why can't the same happen to Modi? Is there a promise he has fulfilled so far? For the poor, his call for vikas (development) has only meant vinash (destruction). Arhar Modi is what he has become, bad news."

It was a Sunday and we had set out early; folks out on the Dargah chowk had enough time for chatter; if it were about politics, they seemed especially inclined.

"Modiji is calling us junglee, let it be so," another one intervened, "We are happy in our jungle, it is not as if he is going to bring down the heavens for us, we have seen what he is about, only speeches, bhaashan par bhaashan. You will hear what people have to say when you go across, into the Raghopur jungle."

Our car loaded onto a boat, we set sail for Raghopur on the north bank of the Ganga 

Our road today was actually a river, and it was a grand one called the Ganga. We had headed out of Patna and arrived at Kachchi Dargah, an untidy sandbank settlement of boat-makers and boatmen, to cross over to Raghopur where Lalu Prasad's younger son Tejaswi is making his debut bid for the Bihar Assembly.

We had our car rolled along wooden ramps onto a rickety boat, and then we set sail, powered by a diesel engine coughing fumes somewhere beneath the bamboo rafts that made the open deck. We had more company than the boat seemed capable of safely handling, but overcrowding is a risk the Ganga boatmen run several times each day.

There were half a dozen motorbikes, a scatter of bicycles, women and children huddled close to where the boatman manipulated the rudder. There were also many milkmen herding empty aluminium containers - their trade for the day was done, their gallons sold off. They were relaxed. One of them turned to me mid-stream and said: "Raghopur kaa result clear ho chuka, Tejaswi hi jeetega, likh leejiye (The Raghopur result is clear, Tejaswi will win, write it down)." He then turned away as if there was no argument to be had.

Landing on the other bank we saw a tug disgorging paramilitary personnel with their guns and knapsacks. Many more will arrive in preparation for the vote on October 28. We also saw a boat fill up with orange-capped BJP supporters and depart. Prime Minister Modi was resuming his Bihar campaign with a series of meetings further upstream in Hajipur and Chhapra; this lot were headed in that direction.

They crouched on the deck as the vessel pulled away; last year they may have been screaming " Har Har Modi!" as they boarded. Today, they merely sat there, like obedient students being led out on excursion.

Raghopur is quite the jungle the man from Kachchi Dargah had called it - a barren, dusty outback that gets deluged for months each year by the risen Ganga and turns into an inaccessible 'diara', a riverine island. When the waters recede, they reveal patches of sand and patches of arable land.

They do not reveal too many rewards for having been the VIP fief of the Lalu-Rabri clan - a spindly cement track that runs helter-skelter along mud-and-thatch settlements, veins of overhead wiring that appear and disappear, the odd " sarkari" hand pump (most of them tend to be private efforts), the odd school. For daily sustenance, most of Raghopur must still take the boat to Kachchi Dargah - doctors, medicines, consumer goods, education beyond middle school stage.

Paramilitary forces arrive on the Raghopur banks in preparation for polling on October 28. 
Pictures by Sankarshan Thakur 

Five minutes off the riverbank into the interior, and you are in near-primal landscape, a life lived between man and earth and little in between.

And yet, here's the Raghopur riddle: it is still willing to vote the Lalu clan, this time the young Tejaswi. It's a bafflement why and its only credible answer is undying clansmanship: he is our own, Lalu is our own, Rabri Devi is our own. It's why the Gandhis of the Congress sweep the bereftness of Amethi and Rae Bareli over and over again.

Rabri did lose the 2010 election here to Satish Rai, then Nitish Kumar's candidate, but 2010 was a hands down Nitish wave. Denied a ticket, Rai is contesting on an NDA ticket, what he calls the " vikas" ticket. His votaries will tell you he is in with a chance - he is local, he has a following, he too is a Yadav. "Let the result come," cautions Amiri Rai, "You will be surprised, Tejaswi is winning only as long as the result is not out, after that, it will be another story."

Amiri has stepped off his cycle and butted into a village group deep in premature celebration of Tejaswi's success. "Remember my word," he says, pedalling off, having made his rebuttal. "Nah," says one as Amiri leaves, "This is Lalu's zameen (home ground) and this time he is with Nitish, unbeatable combination. And Tejaswi is our son, how could we disappoint him? Which politician does anything anyhow, might as well vote our own."

As we boarded the boat back, we heard news that Prime Minister Modi had concluded the first couple of his rallies up along the north Ganga banks. Any idea what he had been saying, I asked aloud on the deck. "But what difference would it make?" a voice shot back, "He is coming here all too many times for a Prime Minister and saying nothing new. Nobody is curious. I heard him last time and regret I did."

Arhar Modi is beginning to resound over Har Har Modi in these parts.