The usually witty and affable Railway Minister Lalu Prasad was a different man on Thursday. He spent all day in a partially completed two storeyed building in Chapra town, the main centre of Saran constituency which he is contesting, holding long discussions with his aides, or talking animatedly into his mobile phone, but refusing point blank to meet the press.
When he finally did, it was well after polling had ended, and it was to demand a repoll.
“The local administration failed to conduct free and fair elections,” he charged. “I will go up to the highest level to expose the electoral malpractices local officials resorted to.”
Significantly this was the first time Lalu was making such a charge. It was his opponent who usually expressed such sentiments. But this time BJP candidate Rajiv Pratap Rudy had no complaints.
“Some of my Dalit and Muslim voters have been beaten up, stabbed and prevented from voting,” he said. “The administration has done nothing about it.”
All day, according to some aides who met him, Lalu was so agitated he would not sit down. All discussions were held standing up.
According to some who attended these discussions, they were all conducted standing up. Lalu was so agitated he would not sit down, except during the three tea breaks he took. He was plainly worried.
In contrast, his underdog opponent, former BJP union minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy, was beaming. He too remained busy on his mobile most of the time, but the mood all around was clearly upbeat. “The race is very close,” he said. “But we may rewrite history.” He had no complaints against the administration.