The godmothers of Bihar
The husbands are convicted criminals who fought each other openly in pitched battles. But the politics of convenience has brought the wives on to the same political platform. Praveen Donthi reports.india Updated: Nov 24, 2010 10:00 IST
Bees saal dekh liye fair ko, ab lovely ko dekh lijiye. (You’ve seen ‘fair’ for 20 years, have a look at ‘lovely’ now),” shouts a young Congress party worker into the mike and looks behind for appreciation, grinning at with his own pun.
Equally happy is Lovely Anand, Congress candidate for the Allam Nagar constituency, who’s on the dais today in Chausa. The dark sunglasses don’t hide her beaming face. The crowd’s attention, however, is on the sunny sky, from where Bhojpuri matinee idol Ravi Kishen is expected to descend in a helicopter.
In 2007, a lower court sentenced Anand to life for inciting the crowd to lynch G Krishnaiah, the Gopalganj district magistrate, at gangster Chotan Shukla’s funeral procession. She got bail from the Patna High Court. But her husband, former MP Anand Mohan Singh, is serving a life sentence in Saharsa jail for the case.
In the 1990s, Singh headed a private army which attacked supporters of reservation for the backward castes. His army went unchallenged - till Ranjan Yadav, more notorious as Pappu Yadav, emerged on the scene. It set up a clash of criminal titans and threw north Bihar’s Kosi belt into a civil war. “They clashed often in pitched battles and we reported diligently,” recalls a senior journalist who requests anonymity. They threatened and killed at will. They were Kosi’s terror twins.
Singh’s wife Anand spins her own tale: “He was not a criminal or a don. He’s a victim of a political conspiracy. He was a big fan of Bhagat Singh and Nelson Mandela - and always challenged the political establishment since he was 17.” It sounds like a rehearsed stance, and suppressed smile a giveaway of the version’s absurdness. The posters in Chausa has Anand saying: ‘Kisi ke liye ye matdaan hai; mere liye jeevan-daan hai’ (To some this is an election; for me this is a grant of life). Singh’s mother, too, features on the poster. It’s a desperate plea from the once-dreaded family.
Same coin, other side
It’s a similar story for Singh’s foe Pappu Yadav, who is also serving life in Beur jail. His wife Ranjit Ranjan is Congress’s ‘star contestant’ for the Bihariganj seat.
Ranjan’s was a Kashmiri Pandit family which converted to Sikhism. She represented Bihar in tennis while Pappu had made a name as Lalu Prasad Yadav’s henchman.“A lumpen youngster who had made himself notorious in the Saharsa-Purnea region with acts of wanton violence… He had the physique of a baby elephant and the reputation of a raving, stampeding one,” writes Sankarshan Thakur in Subaltern Saheb: Bihar and the making of Laloo Yadav.
How did she get married to a don? “Those days I used to go on a Hero Majestic cycle for practice at the New Patna Club, where he had seen me. He came home to propose, but my family took its time deciding. It went on for two years… He never misbehaved with me. I judged his character as a woman,” says Ranjan. Stories about how Yadav won over her brother first by gifting him a cricket kit are part of the lore. Wagging tongues also say that her family didn’t have much of a choice, though the wedding was performed according to the Sikh tradition.
Today, she’s the face of Pappu’s empire and wields influence in his name. Between them, the two powerful ‘godmothers’ managed six Congress tickets for their acolytes. But everyone is clear where their power flows from: their posters invariably have their husbands’ faces in the same size. And both of them seek “people’s justice” for their jailed husbands.
Once in rival camps, they were recently spotted on the same dais with Rahul Gandhi. They seem not to share the animosity of their husbands. “She is like sister to me,” says Ranjan.
People of flood-prone Kosi belt are using an apt metaphor for this duo of foes-turned-friends: “During the floods even the snake and the man will travel in the same boat.” But one knows how things may turn once the water recedes.