Gauging ground reality with a chopper that looks like ‘a school bus’ from inside
Ajay Singh | March 27, 2014
Helicopter politics preceded the electoral politics in Bihar. Chief minister Nitish Kumar became its casualty. In fact, the agency that has been providing helicopters to JD(U) all these years is primarily under contractual obligation with the BJP. This agency provides choppers and private jets to top BJP leaders. Much before the election, it agreed to provide a helicopter to Nitish Kumar for his election campaign. But they left the JD(U) in lurch by reneging on their words.
“It is nothing but sabotage,” a furious Nitish told me when asked about his helicopter travails. Indeed it was sabotage and Nitish's anger was not unfounded. The reality is that helicopters are extremely crucial for election campaigning for any party. The denial of a chopper to Nitish, presumably by deceit, has further strained what remains of his ties with the BJP. “That is how they do politics,” he commented on the episode.
The JD(U) meanwhile has managed to procure one rickety but sturdy helicopter of Bell series for its star campaigner. On the first day of his campaign (March 25), I boarded the chopper with Nitish and his cabinet colleague Vijay Chaudhary. “It looks like a school bus,” remarked Chaudhary. The chief minister was equally bemused by the cramped seating arrangement though he was given more leg space.
As the rotors of the chopper started whirling, the great noise it created made us realise that it would be impossible to carry any conversation during the journey. It was a one-hour flight from Patna to Chainpur in Sasaram as the machine flew over the treacherous Kaimur hills and landed at a helipad. We walked a few yards to reach the venue where a small crowd awaited the leaders.
Sasaram is an important constituency as it is considered a stronghold of Lok Sabha speaker Meira kumar. Against her, the JD(U) has put up KP Ramaiyya, a Bihar cadre IAS officer from Andhra Pradesh who resigned only a month back to try his luck in electoral politics. “For the past several months, Ramaiyya has been building his base by approaching people directly,” Nitish said, adding that he was a popular bureaucrat.
Ramaiyya, who is from a scheduled caste, has adopted Bihar as his home. “Can you find a Bihari contesting and winning a poll in Gujarat?” he said while appreciating Nitish’s gesture to give him the ticket. Despite Ramaiyya’s rhetoric, his popularity as a bureaucrat is yet to translate into his new role as leader. In his speech Nitish also spoke about his own performance. “I am asking for the wages for my work,” he said concluding his speech.
After Chainpur, we hopped to three more places: Rajpur of Karakot constituency, Kutumba of Aurangabad and Dobhi in Gaya. Though these meetings attracted fairly good attendance, the preponderance of women in the audience was an indication of Nitish’s popularity with the fair sex. In all these meetings, his script was familiar. But when he asked the audience, “will you vote for us?”, he would inevitably get maximum response from women. That should be expected since he has introduced 50 percent reservation for women in local bodies and improved law and order situation in the state.
Will they vote for Nitish? It is really difficult to assess from the crowd’s mood. Some Muslim voters in Aurangabad were unambiguous in support of the JD(U). “He has done a lot for Ansaris (a weaver community),” said one. However, a group of Brahmin villagers sitting close to the venue of the rally but indifferent to the proceedings was equally emphatic in favour of Nikhil Kumar, the congress candidate who is a former Delhi police commissioner. I was a little surprised by their political choice.
The reason is not far to seek. The BJP candidate from the constituency is Sushil Kumar Singh, sitting JD(U) MP, who deserted the party only a fortnight back and joined the BJP. In the caste-ridden society, Singh is seen as an aggressive Rajput candidate who is detested by Brahmins and Bhumihars. Nikhil Kumar, another Rajput by caste, is a natural beneficiary of this drift. In most constituencies of Bihar, turncoat politicians are claiming themselves to be the flag-bearers of change. The more things change the more they remain the same. As dusk started setting, the pilot cautioned about the poor light. The last meeting was wound up hurriedly and we flew over Gaya to reach Patna. “The campaign will pick up in the days to come,” was Nitish Kumar’s parting comment.
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