Forward, backward… such allergies plaguing our politics”, says sitting MP and contestant from North Bihar’s Supal constituency Ranjeet Ranjan (35), referring to the resilient caste discourse that runs through the politics of one of India’s most populous and poor states.
Wife of ex-parliamentarian and murder convict Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav, Ranjeet explains why she left Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Jan Parishad, which speaks to backward caste identities in Bihar, to join the Congress and fight her second election on April 30. “I don’t want to practice politics within caste limits any more… I want my work to be broadbased. Leaving had nothing to do with the fallout between my husband and Lalu Yadav,” she says.
Since a court in April barred him from fighting elections, Pappu Yadav’s 58-year-old mother Shanti Priya — “Pappuji’s shadow ... she is contesting means Pappuji is contesting...” in the words of one supporter — is also fighting the neighbouring Purnea constituency, her candidature supported by the Congress. Ironically, these are the seats the Congress feels confident of winning in a state where a Rashtriya Janata Dal-Lok Jan Parishad alliance seemed to suggest near-death for its prospects.
In her black and white paisley-print chiffon saree, branded shades and Sikh amulet bouncing alongside a Rado watch, as her gleaming SUV with tinted windows negotiates meandering dirt tracks, Ranjeet cuts an incongruous figure against the landscape of one of India’s poorest constituencies, with over 12 lakh voters.
The former national-level tennis player who would rather fight a “Grand Slam than an election” won her debut election from North Bihar’s benighted Saharsa constituency in 2004, taking the place of her husband, then incarcerated in Tihar jail. A greenhorn, Ranjeet reaped the fruits of her husband's widespread popularity, which was born in the 1990s from the very caste politics which she today considers distasteful.
“Pappuji helped people assert themselves, defended a Harijan girl who was raped by upper caste men, reduced the bridge between a MP and the public.” concedes Ranjeet, a who was pursued as an undergraduate student for three years by Yadav before her conservative Sikh family relented to the inter-caste marriage.
“Garibon ka maseeha" is how many villagers here dub Pappu Yadav, in sharp contrast to the urban middle class view, condemning people like him of criminalising India’s politics. On the ground here, to the people who inhabit a world where systems of justice, or governance rarely respond, the burly Yadav served as a Robin Hood-like figure who might come to their aid.