Elections 2019: MP Rajesh Ranjan aka don Pappu Yadav is Seemanchal's 'Robin Hood' prince now
Riding on a bike with five-time MP Rajesh Ranjan, once a dreaded don, now Seemanchal's 'Robin Hood' prince. From don to a messiah, his assistant tells us, the leader has turned tables
Aap bhi Pappu banke ladiye," he tells the crowd, which might be an odd twist to BJP's Narendra Modi slogan: "Mein bhi chowkidaar!" Except, Pappu isn't a derogatory reference to Congress chief Rahul Gandhi. That's the name five-time member of parliament, Rajesh Ranjan urf Pappu Yadav, 51, goes by, over the land - in and around Madhepura, in north-eastern Bihar - he surveys.
Once a dreaded don, with close to 100 criminal cases registered against him, ranging from kidnapping, extortion to murder (as per his election affidavit), Pappu Yadav has served as lawmaker for six terms (he started out as an MLA) from these parts, and is the lay of the land himself.
If anything, as opposed to Rahul's reputation of a reluctant, part-time politician, Pappu's name in the region, I notice, evokes awe rather than fear, for the sort of untiring, relentless effort he puts in to connect with his constituents all through the year - village after village, attending community functions, inaugurations, family weddings, funerals, mundan, janau (thread ceremony).
He's just always at it, his entourage complains to me. He has 14 private assistants, working shifts, and still sleepless. This, along with Y-category security detail, that relocates every few months, because they can't keep up with his punishing schedule.
Pappu Yadav (in blue) likes to travel with his supporters on bikes
Spotting the tiger!
He starts at 6 am daily, traversing across, and sometimes gets done around 3 am, currently canvassing for re-election in Madhepura on April 23, as an Independent candidate (from the seat he won on a Congress ticket in 2014). Chasing Pappu down is a lot like spotting tiger in the wild - trailing pugmarks left behind!
With his itinerary in hand - he has 40 sabhas (gatherings/rallies) listed for the day - we trace his route from main-town Madhepura towards a village Chausa in the deep interiors, asking pedestrians and shopkeepers, "Saansad kidhar (where's the MP)?" They dutifully point to the direction of the wind. We follow.
Ideally it shouldn't be hard catching up with Pappu - or even fleeing criminals - on these spotty roads that are called National Highways, but are essentially lunar craters. There are portions of land on either side called 'denga pani', or 'no-man's land' falling between adjoining police jurisdictions where legendary local Mafiosi, Shankar Singh, Anand Mandal, Faizan, could allegedly commit crimes, lay back, and chill. Because cops, among themselves, conveniently couldn't decide whose job it was to nab!
While our vehicle performs calisthenics over potholes, moving at around 20 km/h, the FM radio plays an interview of actor Deepa Sahi, who lists travelling as her passion. The Wit in the backseat, our guide, Ashish 'Sona' Yadav, Pappu's maternal uncle, talks back: "Madam! Travel here sometime. You'll seriously reconsider your passions!"
As we finally reach Chiruri by evening, much further ahead of Chaura, with crowds gathered for Pappu's imminent arrival, the same Wit tells us, "This village is prithivi (earth) in its original form, having remained the same ever since." This is only partly an exaggeration. For, there is nothing here outside of a mud-track, pond, and permanent huts. The nearest bazaar, locals say, is about 10 km away, so they travel once in 20 days to procure supplies.
The motorcycle mela
The Saansad's rep as the benevolent boss, generous to a fault, precedes him wherever we go - hearing about a 'Seva Ashram' he runs at his MP's bungalow in New Delhi, where a "thousand people from his constituency are fed for free everyday and passed on recommendations for treatment at AIIMS." He has a similar set-up in Patna.
This, besides, hard cash, reccos ("pairavi") he hands out when people who show up expressing imminent needs - daughter's shaadi, daroga (cop) recruitment, college fees, etc. But most importantly, flood-relief, given huge tracts of these lands get swept away by river Kosi practically every year! He also possesses a strikingly sharp people-memory, I'm told.
It is a little nerve racking to come face-to-face with Pappu, an overwhelmingly large man over a seemingly tiny motorbike, as he stops at the turn in Chiruri. We walk up, say hi. He later offers to have me on the back of his motorcycle while he carries on to village Payna right ahead, where he is surrounded by the young and old.
On the portable loudspeaker, he reminds the crowd that it isn't "Modi, Nitish (Kumar) or Lalu (Prasad Yadav) who stands by them all year, only he does." They cheer him on. The region Seemanchal in Bihar, comprising Madhepura, Purnea, Kishanganj, and Araria, had altogether over-ridden the 2014 'Modi wave'. Pappu is up against fellow-caste candidates JDU's Dinesh Chandra Yadav and RJD's Sharad Yadav, in what's a Yadav-dominated constituency, or as locals put it: "Rome mein Pope. Madhepura mein Gope!"
Payna being Muslim-majority, Pappu also tells the crowd about his wife, Ranjeet Yadav, who is bidding for re-election in the neighbouring Supaul (on a Congress ticket): "Musalman bhai fida hain un par!"
Pappu's new phase
His chief assistant Guddu tells us, this is a different Pappu from 1991, when he first entered Lok Sabha, on the back of an all-pervasive gun-culture in Bihar. Quoting the exact, "12 years, 4 months, 18 days in jail" that Pappu spent in jail (released in 2013) - over the broad day-light murder of communist leader Ajit Sarkar in Purnea in 1998 - Guddu says the new Pappu's loyal army, is entirely bereft of weapons: "He doesn't allow, and of course, doesn't carry either."
More like a mature kid cajoling his upset parents, I see Pappu hug an old man brought to him, who is disgruntled because he didn't show up as chief guest for the village cricket tournament earlier in the year: "But chacha, how easily you forgot the R50,000 that I gave you (for a funeral) last year?" Old man smiles.
In that 50-second stretch I get with no one around his bike, I ask Pappu what he makes of his Rohin Hood image. Evoking Voltaire, he speaks of there being a creation, and therefore a creator, and that we ought to be one with him. Recalling Abraham Lincoln, he bemoans how divisive politics, and turning issues simply into events, has basically destroyed democracy that should simply be "of, by, and for the people".
Climbing a steep mound on his bike, with a crowd welcoming him at a thoroughfare, early evening, that seems like dead of the night, Pappu asks, "Have you seen anything like this before?" Seriously; no.
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