LOST RABRI LOOKS FOR SOFT LANDING 

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By FROM SANKARSHAN THAKUR
  • Published 21.02.00
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Rabri Devi almost missed her last election meeting as chief minister of Bihar. Her pilots could not locate the meeting ground from the air, and anxious colleagues on the ground had no way of locating or guiding her there. As it went past 4 pm, the nerves began to jangle - on the dais that could not spot the chopper in the skies and in the chopper that could not find the dais. Her time in power was surely ticking away, but would the clocks deprive her of this last appearance on stage too? Former state Rashtriya Janata Dal president, revenue minister and candidate from Bochaha, Ramai Ram, was disconsolate. "Where is she? Where is she? Time is running out." Ramai Ram is on a better wicket in this election than most of his RJD colleagues but ending the campaign with the chief minister's meeting was to be the icing on his campaign: he did not want to be robbed of it. He was like a keyed up toy, pacing up and down the dais. In the chopper, the chief minister was losing patience. The pilots had no idea where the meeting was and she hadn't the navigating skills of her husband. "At one point she had instructed us to return to Patna, we were pushing the 5 pm deadline. But then we suddenly saw the crowd out of nowhere, just a piece of luck," one of the pilots said. Rabri Devi was like a sterile replay of Laloo Yadav's speeches, rendered in one long, flat and hurried rattle. "The BJP calls this jungle raj because the poor have come up, if this is 'jungle raj' we must protect it because the poor can prosper only in this jungle. Laloo Yadav gave you the respect to keep your heads high, it is now time for you to strengthen his hands." Nothing new, nothing innovative, nothing of her own. Rabri Devi's speech was the only thing it could have been. A dummy chief minister's karaoke act. Her husband's words issuing uninspiringly from her mouth. She must be one of the few chief ministers who is on the verge of losing power and does not even seem affected; but then, it is not she who is going out, it is Laloo Yadav. Rabri Devi has not been much of a draw in these elections but who in the RJD has? Even Laloo Yadav hasn't got them in the manner he used to. Today's crowd at Bochaha should, in fact, have flattered Rabri Devi, it equalled the best her husband has got in this campaign. For one thing, it had far more women in attendance. But if Rabri Devi is beginning to build a following of her own, the beginning has come a little late in the day, at least for the purposes of this election. In any event, the chief minister gave every indication today she is happier relieved of politics than in it. She said she was short on time and had a few more meetings to address. But quite obviously, she did not intend addressing any more meetings. She got a little local girl to hold centrestage singing an off-tune panegyric to the Laloo Yadav clan for more than the duration of her own speech. By the time she took off, there wasn't time for any more. She could only have been headed home to Patna. "She must be a relieved woman. The last day of her exams is over, now it is holiday time for Rabri Devi," an official quipped, underlining Rabri Devi's well-known distaste for politics and politicking.