- This is director Prakash Jha’s third attempt to seek election. He had earlier contested in 2004 and 2009 and lost.
- For some years, he again concentrated on making films—with political themes, like Rajneeti, starring Katrina Kaif
- Jha tells people his previous failures have made him long even more to serve people. He hopes they’ll give him the job he seeks.
He’s in a white shirt, Reebok trackpants, Nike sneakers, and springs up the stairs to record a voice message to the voters of this constituency. Surrounded by aides in his war room, filmmaker Prakash Jha, 62, is taking stock of his campaign—accounts, publicity, the works. “I’ve sent printed letters to most families living here,” he says. “And when are the scarves arriving?” In a while, he hits the road. It’s 8 am but the heat is scorching. An advance party of vans with LED TVs is already fanning out. Rigged up locally, these vans are the filmmaker’s way of countering the NaMo raths of the BJP. They play DVDs of Prakash Jha: Ek Parichay in Hindi and Urdu. The campaign also features staples like caps and stickers.
Jha is in a black Pajero SUV and his cavalcade criss-crosses Champaran’s farmlands in harvest season. Wheat, onions or turmeric—the crop is being threshed or dried. The Paschim Champaran Lok Sabha constituency is a swathe extending from the Nepal border to the banks of the Gandak river. The countryside is speckled with billboards of coaching centres: spoken English, computer programming, courses for beauticians, courses in mobile repairing. Jha is not the only job-seeker here.
He stops near an orchard, alights from his SUV. The door swings open to reveal two box speakers. A genset is sprung into a chug-chug-chug. The driver hands over two cordless mikes. With practised ease, Jha breaks into his spiel in Bhojpuri. “I left home 40 years back with Rs 300 in my pocket. I worked hard, taught myself film-making and I’ve had success. Why have I come before you? For money, name or fame?” He pauses to scan the faces. “No, I have all that. One thing has always troubled me—hamar Champaran ke durdasha (the plight of my Champaran). You have chosen 16 MPs since 1952. What have you got? I love to work. I seek your naukri. Elect me, I promise I’ll drag Delhi to Champaran with schemes for a better future.”
Jha’s city connections and entrepreneurial spirit are strong too. He’d tried to establish and run a TV news channel in the state. In Patna, he runs the P&M Mall, a chill-out zone for urban youth. He regularly visits Patna, where he has a comfortable home. After the deluge of 2008, he worked in the Kosi plains, building pucca homes for a village of 300 Dalit families. Another Jha project combines business with social service—a multi-speciality hospital in Hajipur, across the Ganga from Patna.
In homeland Champaran, for the third time he’s looking for a job that has eluded him for 10 years. “I applied to you in 2004 and 2009. I again come to you with my application, seeking your naukri as a nominee of the JD(U).” He tells his audience people have always sought votes for something else—never for Champaran. “(For) Indira and Rajiv, mandir and Atal. Now, for NaMo. It’s like taking a loan for someone else. Is such a loan redeemable?” he asks. He then enquires if he stands a chance at getting the job. Hands are raised, ayes are shouted, slogans rent the air. Jha waves, saying, “I too give you the guarantee of service.” There are 20 such public meetings daily. Lunch is a few dates popped on the move.
The campaign has the stamp of a Jha production on location. At daybreak, he emerges from his bus, equipped with a bed and other amenities. He has shaven off his stubble and grown a thick moustache. He walks into the glare of cameras, one from his own team. Starry-eyed youngsters click away on their mobiles. There’s also a camera from the EC.
A light breakfast—chura-dahi most of the time—and Jha gets into action, moving from village to village. He aims at covering all 1,400 village a week before the May 12 polls and has touched 1,100. He says, “Kisan aur naujawan—Champaran’s twin assets suffer. Farming is no longer viable and the young are migrating in pursuit of low-paying, back-breaking jobs. Some 14 lakh children have written the matric exam, half of them girls. In five years, they’ll join the ranks of the jobless,” he says. “In my mall in Patna, we employ 1,200 Bihari men and women. With a little training and skill-addition, our youth can work wonders.”
This correspondent is reminded of a May day in 2009 when a humbled Jha had said he was done with politics. He headed back to Mumbai and then to Bhopal to make political potboilers—Rajneeti, Aarakshan, Chakravyuh and Satyagraha. Business and social commitments kept bringing him to Patna. But not to Bettiah, from where he hails. A sugar mill he’d promised had not materialised. Accusations flew. Raghunath Jha of the RJD fumed that a Nandigram-like situation had taken shape.
“I could not visit my village because of my commitments in Mumbai and Patna. There were problems...” Jha explains. “The angst of not being able to give something back to Champaran rankled. I have been giving a pension to families who sold their land for the mill. I offered to return their land free of cost. Some accepted, others reaffirmed their trust and hope. I’ve begun a fisheries project on the land. And they are stakeholders now.” As a wag might pun, the rajneeti that Jha abandoned has however drawn him again into its chakravyuh. “It’s a 3-D war here,” says a dhaba owner. “Doctor, director aur dabang.” The incumbent BJP MP, Sanjay Jha, is a doctor. The other ‘D’ is Raghunath Jha of the RJD, who says the BJP is communal and calls the JD(U) a party that has handed over Bihar to a corrupt and arrogant bureaucracy.
Cut again to May 2009, after his loss. Tapping a dejected supporter’s back, Jha had quipped, “Yeh picture flop ho gayi. Agle ki sochte hain (This film has flopped. Let’s think of the next one).” Back on home turf, he is now only thinking of making his current venture a hit.
Abhay Mohan Jha is a senior journalist based in Champaran