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'Helicopter Bhagwan' Laloo returns to earth

In rural Bihar, Laloo Yadav is known as "Helicopter Bhagwan", as he likes to campaign on choppers. But on Sunday, the Bhagwan was grounded.
PTI | By Nandini R. Iyer, Patna
UPDATED ON APR 12, 2004 12:48 AM IST
In interior Bihar, he's known as "Helicopter ". Laloo Prasad Yadav prefers choppers on the campaign trail, because "it's more effective" than public announcements. "People aren't kept waiting in the heat. And everyone from the , the women, the children and the village fool come running to see me get down from the helicopter," the RJD chief explains with a laugh.

The bhagwan  was grounded on Sunday, however. Three stand-by choppers developed technical snags, and the sole functional craft was on compulsory rest (all state government planes have been grounded, in fact). So Laloo hit the road at 3 a.m. to ensure he covered sufficient ground, undaunted by the prospect of covering 600 km by road.

Party workers might have seen the hidden hand of Laloo's chief rival, Civil Aviation Minister Rajeev Pratap Rudy, but the campaign managers say they do not suspect foul play: "It can't be sabotage. What's unfair is that initially Pawan Hans said they had a helicopter, but after we told them whom it was for, they no longer had one available."

Laloo minus a chopper is a bit of an oddity in interior Bihar. People, like those of Jalla, a cluster of 46 villages, have now come to associate the whir of a helicopter doing two rounds above them before Laloo descends.

For this election, the Bhagwan has a new prop — a toy electronic voting machine (EVM), used for impromptu lecture-demonstrations. "This is a voting machine. Look for the candidate's name, but if you can't read, don't worry, the important thing is to look for the lantern symbol. And next to it there is a switch similar to the keys on a harmonium, that's what you have to press," he says.

Laloo has his voters in splits as he goes on: "If the vote is registered, the machine will say peeen." He demonstrates by pressing a button and — it beeps. And then he delivers the punchline: "If it doesn't go peeen, there must be something wrong. Tell the officer the machine is not working, change it."

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