The grinding sound of the tyres of the Jet Airways Airbus as it touched down at the runway of Jayaprakash Narayan Airport in Patna, jolted me out of analysing whose Waterloo Bihar would be — Modi's, Nitish's or Lalu's. One had reached Patna in 1 hour and 45 minutes from Delhi. Patna was was once, I couldn't help thinking, Patlipuitra, capital of Magadh, that was under Samrat Ashok possibly the greatest empire ever. He ruled under the advice of the wily Chanakya, whose state-craft and political intuition are legendary. Sometime one wonders whether some of the stories we have heard are myths — Now the state craft is driven by caste calculations.
The mix of Bhojpuri and 'Magadhi-pataniya' babble welcomed the passengers, as we all came through security. Possibly in view of the VIPs floating around campaigning in the on-going election we had to undergo very severe scrutiny.
One of the security chaps, possibly a Havaldar, seemed to consider everyone of us a potential Carlos the Jackal, the most dreaded political terrorist. I felt like telling him that the Jackal is in a French prison, but if I took the name Jackal, he might have wondered whether it was a code word and detained me for further questioning. The thought made me smile as he frisked. "Ka joke hai, burbak log aise hanste hai (What is the joke. Only fools smile like that)."
I let that pass. Soon enough I was in Maurya Hotel's taxi. The driver seemed to be interested in politics, as it seems all Biharis are. I asked him who is likely to win. His answer was analytical. "Sir, Nitish and Lalu Mahagat bandhan should win, but I feel they will try to defeat each other's candidates and thus Modi will win.' But if they don't … Before I could complete my question he replied, "Sir it is not possible. It is not in their nature, or in their DNA to be honest." How candid that driver hailing from Champaran, from where Gandhiji started his freedom movement was. It is from here that Rajendra Prasad joined the Mahatma.
As the car entered the city's posh area, I thought it looked as usual like an abstract mosaic rumpled by a couple of street urchins — the flyovers have eased traffic but under it rag-pickers and homeless have settled down, roads have less potholes, but so crowded that made one wonder if the increase of traffic every year was considered. And worse, the taxi driver hinted darkly that kidnappings for ransom which started in Jaganath Mishra's and peaked in Lalu and his wife's tenure, were back again, but fortuitously very few isolated cases were heard of.
At the Patna Club where I went with a leading lawyer, a serious discussion was going on in the Bridge Room, instead of Bridge, about the likely outcome of the election. An old but distinguished-looking former judge was trying hard to dent Nitish's achievements. He said hundreds of schools that were opened had teachers some of whom were not even matriculates. That his joining hands with Lalu, will finish him. He affirmed the taxi-driver's view of the two leaders, that both would be dishonest with each other.
No one seemed willing to guess the outcome, but hoo-hawed that whatever be the result, the real Bihar, Bihar in the raw, would never change whatever party might be in power. What is Bihar in the raw, I asked my lawyer friend. He said you will see it when you travel tomorrow.
Real Bihar on the Highway
Believe me I had my fill of Bihar when I travelled by road. I was convinced that the real Bihar will never change — whether Lalu-Nitish, presently being political Jai and Veeru of Sholay, or Namo's representative rule the state. The Bihari in rural areas is keyed to caste traditions and otherwise he is law unto himself. I can testify to it.
We left Patna at about 9am in an almost new Innova. We passed Danapur—military cant—averaging at about 70 kmph. But after that smooth run, the real Bihar started unfolding. The road after Danapur, a national highway, narrowed and in the first left lane, an unbroken chain of fully loaded trucks of various makes and vintage were parked. They not only blocked the traffic going away from Patna, but in fact they affected the movements of vehicles towards the city. We were told that their entry into the state capital was banned a day earlier as "Jai and Veeru" were addressing a public meeting somewhere near the highway. The trucks were not moved in protest.
We were moving at about 20 km when suddenly some vehicle hit our Innova at the back. The driver and my brother-in-law got down. There was about 15-minute discussion after which they returned. So did any policeman turned up or are we going to a police station?
I learnt the reality of everyday life then. There was no need to register any case or claim—damage to Innova was estimated to be about Rs 12000—because the Tractor that hit us was not registered, the driver was underage, so he had no license. But the tractor was on the road almost daily. The owner of the tractor was a proxy for a MLA who was also related to the "Darogaji" so there was total impunity. The parting shot of a passenger on the trolley as the tractor passed us summed up the reality on the ground. He said: "In villages out of 20 tractors, one might be registered, but all of them take to roads."
That is Bihar. It is beyond leader of any political hue today to change it. I thought as I sat in the Jet Airways 737 to get back to Delhi.
Last week I heard
Patna Babus while digging into their ice-creams at Rajasthan Restaurant were laughing loud. We went closer to investigate. They were relating Rahul jokes!