Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nalin Verma : LALU vs NITISH

Comeback Lalu vs Dussehra Nitish


Patna, Sept. 29: Bihar governor Devanand Konwar and chief minister Nitish Kumar released balloons carrying a message of peace as Ravan effigies went up in flames at Gandhi Maidan last evening.

This Lanka dahan, though well attended, could not overshadow the Ram lila organised by Lalu Prasad early in the Nineties, thronged by hundreds.

However, Nitish’s event kept true to the message (of peace) that were inscribed on the balloons which cut across the monsoon-heavy air. The 10-day festival passed off peacefully with little incidents of teasing, thefts, vandalism and robberies, frequent in the past.

So what if it was less flashy and bereft of musical soirées, once an integral feature of Dussehra in Patna in the Seventies and the Eighties.

The Dussehra was good for Lalu Prasad as well, especially since the RJD boss was virtually written off after the Lok Sabha poll debacle. In the bypoll, Lalu’s RJD-LJP combination drubbed the Nitish-led NDA before Dusshehra.

Now that he is back politically, he is back to his old self. A cartoonist depicted Lalu Prasad as a tiger with his teeth bared, snarling at rivals seen scurrying for safety.

The manner in which RJD cadre celebrated their victory on the Patna streets reminded the public of the “days that were”.

Workers exploded loud firecrackers and party winner from Phulwari Sharief Udai Majhi rode an elephant through the airport area, a high security zone. He was accompanied by nearly hundred partymen.

Dharmendra Kumar, 28, an ice-cream vendor, whose trolley stands adjacent to a south Indian restaurant near Gandhi Maidan for 10 years, recalled a particular Dussehra.

“There used to be a Chinese restaurant, Shimlong, run by a Chinese woman. One Dussehra, the owner just disappeared. Actually, she had been kidnapped. A month later, she sold off her 30-year-old restaurant and left Patna for good,” he said.

Dosa Plaza has now replaced Shimlong and its owner has become a part of Patna’s lawless history. Like Dharmendra, others admit that RJD celebrations “terrified” them.

“If a bypoll win is followed by firecrackers, will they burst real bombs if they win the general elections?” Nitish Kumar wondered and pointed out that the NDA celebrations were “calmer”.

A year after riding to power, Nitish had organised a different Dussehra at Gandhi Maidan in 2006. The chief minister stayed on for the whole night of classical and folk music session, which was attended by families — a departure from the past when families felt safer to stay indoors.

In 2007 and 2008 after the devastating floods, the government decided not to celebrate the event. This year, too, celebrations were low-key because of the drought, but people came out nonetheless to pandal hop, assured by the presence of police patrols and jeeps and jawans.

“We are happy that no one brandishes a pistol when we ask them to pay up nowadays,” said a staff at Palm Tree petrol pump, recalling the days when goons would fill their vehicles with fuel at gun point during Dussehra.