February 21, 2020
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Laloo's Family Album

It was an occasion tailor-made for political showmanship. And Laloo, Rabri pulled out all stops.

Laloo's Family Album

It's been an old tradition for rulers in the subcontinent: marriages and deaths are very public events. More vivid eruptions of joy and grief than emotional cocoons where private space is a zealously guarded preserve. And when the father of the bride and ruler happen to combine in the person of Laloo Prasad Yadav the runaway winner for the title of India's politician extraordinaire the private and public merge into each other quite imperceptibly. The people, after all, must have their day. Which they certainly did on December 10, as the flower-bedecked, vapour lamp-lit, chief minister's house in Patna temporarily turned into the centre of Bihar's universe. It may've been reasonable to expect that, at least on the day of their marriage, it ought to be the couple's day. But then, not every first-born is named after the act under which her father was jailed during the Emergency. And not every systems analyst at Infosys marries into what is, for good or bad, unquestionably Bihar's first family.

And, for a while, it looked like a regular political rally (or ralla, to use Laloo's 'masculine' coinage) that threatened to go out of control. When the baraat arrived at 1, Anne Marg at around 8 pm on Friday, even Laloo himself playing master of ceremonies at the gate found it hard to control the 25,000-strong crowd gathered there. But there were a few notable absentees (if expected at all). The president, vice-president and prime minister didn't turn up, among film stars only Shatrughan Sinha and Raj Babbar were sighted. But then, amid shehnai tunes, arrived the likes of Mulayam, Pranab Mukherjee, H.S. Surjeet, Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, former PMs Chandra Shekhar and Deve Gowda and even BJP's Shahnawaz Hussain. Amid all this, it was the couple that seemed drowned out.

But Misa Bharati and Shailesh Kumar, the 'just married' 24-year-olds, are slated to get some privacy. At the Jalaluddinchak 'honeymoon suite', no less. For, having received the blessings of Bihar's bold and beautiful, they're headed for this nondescript part of mofussil Patna (district) where the groom, in the great Indian babu tradition, 'hails from'. And where a two-room flat for the newly-weds has come up in the compound of Shailesh's family house almost overnight. The buzz is that taking a leaf out of earlier marginally more absolute rulers, the raja of Bihar organised the construction of what the locals term a 'small palace for his rani bitiya' in record time. A task accomplished by seven masons and 30-odd labourers working round-the-clock through the past fortnight.

This, then, is the temporary resting place for the couple before flying off to Bangalore, where Shailesh works. Though the last take from the regularly issued (word-of-mouth) daily bulletin on the couple's plans indicated that Misa may stay on for a while at Patna to complete her internship (she's just become a doctor, but more of that later). And then meet up with her husband who's some work pending at Bangalore to take off to the us, where he's enrolled for a training programme. But for now, there's pride in work well done. 'Lalooji had asked us to complete the house in 10 days with everything fitted properly and we've done it,' says Satyendra, mason-in-chief at Jalaluddinchak. In adjoining Kunjwa, the groom's ancestral village, which after 50 years of independence was bereft of pucca roads, clean drinking water or power, residents were busy cheering hordes of state officials who've promised to change the face of the village before December 12, when the couple arrives here.

For Bihar's groom of the decade, son of a bank cashier posted at the Jehanabad branch of the Punjab National bank, all this fuss seemed so much water off a duck's back. Sitting in front of his dilapidated ancestral house, in a tracksuit and rubber slippers, the second most famous man from Infosys told Outlook a couple of days before D-Day, 'Chief minister's or ex-chief minister's daughter doesn't matter to me. For me, she's just going to be my wife.' He's perfected his response to the incessant questioning about his 'feelings for Misa' a shrug of the shoulders, a half-smile. 'My business,' he means. But he's media-savvy enough not to say it. And the contrast with the frenetic activity at the bride's house reaching near-manic proportions in the run-up to the big day couldn't have been more striking. For while it was Laloo who hogged the limelight, Rabri Devi too played mother to the hilt.

In fact, so intent were the Yadav couple to ensure that the marriage of the first of their nine children be an affair to remember, the quip was that for the first time in a decade and more, almost the entire Patna administration was at work. Chief minister Rabri Devi herself seemed happy to forget all her official responsibilities for a week leading to the marriage and devoted herself to being what a friend of the family described as 'an ideal mother'. The otherwise down-at-heel, garbage-strewn streets of Patna were cleaned up as, according to a resident, 'never before'. Roads leading to 1, Anne Marg came in for special attention and high-voltage vapour lamps lined the roadsides. Expert decorators from Calcutta were roped in for the pandals erected at the CM's official residence and two other venues in the city to be used to host the thousands of guests. Eating arrangements for the baraatis and other invitees were made at three different locations including at Rabri Devi's brothers' houses. Close circuit TV cameras had also been installed at Anne Marg to address the security concerns of the vvip guests. But Laloo had made it clear that while security considerations may mean the guests at the wedding venue would have to be limited, there was no way he could tell the 'people' not to come and bless his daughter. Even if from afar.

While his critics point to this being a vintage Laloo ploy to garner some votes keeping the forthcoming assembly polls in view, Laloo spent the run-up to December 10 insisting Misa's marriage had nothing to do with politics. The Yadav clan rumour circuit, in fact, indulged in a furious bout of gossip for what it's worth about the 'sudden' announcement of the marriage. The 'consensus': it was a result of the 'friendly competition' between the two Yadav bigwigs of north India. After Mulayam staged a grand marriage for his son and exhibited his clout, the Yadav leader from Bihar, or so goes the story, was out to prove that he could do no less. That there was talk of a possible match between Mulayam's son and Laloo's daughter earlier this year only egged the former Bihar CM, says a political aide, into seriously scouting around for an 'appropriate boy' and organising a grand marriage. And scotching 'uncalled for speculation' once and for all.

But speculation did arise, vis-a-vis some reports that senior rJD leaders were trying to curry favour by presenting Misa with expensive gifts, including 'a diamond ring worth a lakh of rupees.' This, despite the invitation cards requesting guests not to bring any presents,

The state BJP-JD(u), while refraining from on-the-record criticism, isn't averse to scoring some points. An Opposition veteran has it that the drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls spurred Laloo into 'marrying off' at least one of his daughters while in power. 'He knows he's on the way out. But before that happens, he wanted to organise one grand show,' he said. But the fact is the state BJP was worried enough by the 'sympathy and affection' Laloo may generate in a country which retains a soft spot for the father of the bride, to have requested the prime minister not to attend the wedding of the andolan ki beti, as Laloo described Misa whilst inviting Vajpayee.

More unkind and perhaps unfair barbs were in store for Laloo, as critics doubted the authenticity of Misa's recently declared MBBS results. Misa, who'd failed to clear the medical entrance examination the first time, topped from the Patna Medical College and Hospital. Securing distinctions in Gynaecology and ent, a record of sorts at the prestigious hospital. Her result has sparked off a political as well as academic debate centered around the 'politicisation of educational institutions', most definitely something she could have done without in the run-up to her marriage.

'Laloo wanted to prove that if the groom was a computer engineer and mba degree holder, then the bride too was no less. But in doing so he's demolished the reputation of a prestigious institution,' alleges abvp's Harendra Kumar. The abvp is demanding a 'review' of Misa's answer sheets. Even her teachers are divided on her 'ability'. While Dr S.K. Singh, who taught her Microbiology and Pathology, points out that 'she isn't a duffer who sailed through medical college on her father's clout', a doctor at the hospital, who refused to be named, alleged that 'increasing the marks of a student with influence is a done thing here.' While nearly everybody is agreed that her attendance was poor 'because of security constraints,' say Laloo's family members most of her batchmates spoken to by Outlook said they were 'happy' that she'd done so well. BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi claims he doesn't want to draw Misa into a political controversy 'because a girl's future is at stake.' But can't resist adding: 'I'm not surprised by her result. It's nothing new for Bihar and Laloo who has scant regard for rules.'

How much, if any, political mileage accrues to Laloo as a result of Misa's marriage is a matter of speculation. But the marriage of a child of the 'night of the midnight knock', as the date on which the Emergency was declared came to be known, has certainly been a high on Bihar's hitherto insipid social calendar. And Laloo's proven that he can be the doting father and a public figure with a penchant for high drama simultaneously, and do so with consummate ease.

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