It is 8.45 am. BJP’s Patna Sahib nominee Ravi Shankar Prasad gets ready for the day’s campaign. Sporting a kurta-pyjama and half-jacket, the Union minister sits for a while as visitors —mostly political workers — arrive at his East Boring Road residence in Patna. Above his revolving chair is a portrait of his father, former Bihar minister Thakur Prasad.
As Prasad wraps up the meetings and gets ready to leave for Gaighat to meet Patna City court lawyers, some persons with disabilities arrive. He meets them and takes their application.
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Meanwhile, his media in-charge Saurav and driver Ashok ensure that the vehicle is stocked with enough water bottles. With the temperature hovering around 45 degrees Celsius, a bottle of aam panna (raw mango drink) is also readied. Prasad takes the middle seat in the white SUV, ready for the campaign. He is taking on Congress nominee and BJP rebel Shatrughan Sinha, who represented Patna Sahib in the last two Lok Sabhas.
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As the vehicle sets off, Prasad talks about his journey — how he would walk 3.5 km from his home to school, his first political assignment at a polling booth in Patna, his struggle during the JP Movement and imprisonment in Bankipore jail with Lalu Prasad and Sushil Kumar Modi. “I call JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) a saint. He single-handedly challenged Indira Gandhi,” says Prasad.
About his work, the BJP leader says, “I have been in-charge of eight states, a Union minister holding several key portfolios. Some people call me Digital Bhaiya for my work in the IT Ministry.”
The vehicle reaches Patna City court. Prasad, along with local BJP MLA and Road Construction Minister Nand Kishore Yadav, visits every lawyer’s chamber. Ashok Singh, a lawyer, says: “This election is about a choice between patriots and traitors.” Aditi Sinha, another lawyer, talks about how many women have independent opinions which could differ from their families.
A litti-chokha seller says: “It is all BJP here. Sinha lives mostly in Maharashtra, and has little appeal here.” A villager who has come to court in connection with a case, says Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has done a good job by banning liquor. “People are drinking less,” she says.
It is 11 am. Prasad has visited 100-odd chambers of lawyers, many of whom are happy with a fellow advocate being in the poll fray. S Khalid Shah, a lawyer, says: “We wish him all the best. We should not speak ill of anyone.”
Back in his car, Prasad talks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi emerging as a “global leader”. Asked why the BJP is using the plank of “muscular nationalism” in this election, he raises his voice to ask why the BJP should not be doing so. “It is a matter of national security. How can the Opposition question the valour of soldiers?”
About Sinha, his rival, Prasad says, “I do not need to mention him. He is facing strong anti-incumbency… what hurt me is him not giving credit to political workers after his big win in 2014.”
The car reaches Machriyawa under Bakhtiyarpur Assembly segment. Local MLA Ranvijay Singh, known as Lallu Mukhiya, welcomes Prasad. Puttu Yadav, an IIT Kharagpur alumnus who joined the BJP three years ago, walks up and asks Prasad for a selfie. Prasad obliges, saying: “While (RJD chief) Lalu Prasad would oil his lathis, we believe in empowering youths. Puttu is an example.” As the vehicle moves slowly, Prasad accepts greetings and asks people their names.
Prasad has been moving in areas of Nitish’s influence. Daniyawa, adjoining Nalanda, has a dominant OBC Kurmi population. A meeting of 100-odd people is held at Saidanpur village, which has a mixed population of OBC Yadavs and Kurmis. Most local leaders say Prasad is the first candidate after Nitish (who had contested from erstwhile Barh Lok Sabha constituency) to have visited these villages.
Taking the microphone, Prasad says this election is about making “garib ke lal (son of a poor man)” Narendra Modi PM again. Pointing out the Ujjawala Yojana and development work done by Nitish, he asks people to choose between a “strong PM” and a “helpless one”. He concludes his speech with “Bharat mata ki jai”.
Barely 2 km away, at Sikandarpur village, there is another meeting. Mukhiya Prabhat Ranjan says they are looking up to Prasad as a future minister who would work for development of the area. Prasad points to a girl in a school uniform and praises Nitish for education reforms. Mentioning “Beti bachao”, he says, “Such things happen only when government schemes filter down to the ground level.” He repeats his previous speech, and cheers follow.
Back in the car, Prasad takes on the Congress. “Why should it be about just one family? One can only wonder why Sardar Patel was given Bharat Ratna so belatedly in 1991 and Maulana Azad in 1992.”
At Kismeria village, a man asks him if he would visit the area after winning or disappear like Sinha. Prasad reassures them about his continued presence.
It is 2 pm. At Kharbhaiya village, Prasad is happy to see many women at the meeting. Again, the main topics are national security and the government’s insurance schemes, with special mention of Nitish’s work for education and women empowerment. Throughout these villages, there has been talk of a Lok Sabha candidate visiting them after years.
At Sarthua village, Prasad garlands the statue of a soldier, Vijay Kumar, who died in the Kargil war. Anil Kumar Singh, a local JD (U) leader, says the village has Kurmis and Paswans. The master of ceremony at the event takes a dig at Sinha’s “khamosh” dialogue: “The MP of Patna Sahib was khamosh (silent) for 10 years. But here is a person (Prasad) who would be sure he keeps taking up the cause of his people after his victory.”
Near the venue, several women villagers have been watching the proceedings. Usha Devi says: “We have not got ration cards yet. But we are happy a BJP candidate has come to our village. We will vote for them but they should take care of us.”
It is 3.30 pm, time for lunch. Ramvirendra Singh from Bihta opens a tiffin box and serves Prasad and his aides. On the menu is rice, roti, arhar dal, tori and parwal. Other visitors are offered sattu. Prasad, meanwhile, counts the villages he is yet to cover — 135 visited, many more to go.
Patna Sahib votes on May 19.