The day when Patna was occupied

Patna wore a different look on the day of Khabardar Rally. From early in the morning one could see streams of people walking down Station Road, in groups of varying sizes. Red flags held aloft, processions walked under the Mithapur overbridge, past the GPO Golambar, down Hardinge Road. The adjacent Hardinge Park was one of the sites where people who came from far-flung districts of Bihar had camped overnight in the open. With rows of trucks, buses, tractors, camps and vendors Hardinge Road wore the look of a carnival. Taking a sharp right-turn into Beer Chand Patel Path at the intersection, one could see a sea of red flags and people who had taken over the 1.5 Km long stretch from R block to the IT roundabout.

Beer Chand Patel Path hasn’t seen a mass political rally in a long time. Lining this historical road are the offices of all the major political parties represented in the Bihar assembly. The road also had important government offices and the MLA club. All these offices remained effectively shut as 1 lakh of the poorest of Bihar occupied the road and all the adjacent lanes and neighbourhoods. A friend who had climbed atop the terrace of the 8-storeyed AG office said it was impossible to see the ends even from there. Many participants could hardly see the dais from where they were seated. But, “their enthusiasm in the sweltering sun had to be seen to be believed. With heads covered to shield the sun, and red flags in their hands, they responded in one voice to the slogans of ‘Lal Salaam’ from the dais.” Though Gandhi Maidan was made unavailable, but the occupied streets of Patna turned the heart of the city into Gandhi Maidan for half-a-day.

One could immediately make out the large presence of women. Hindustan observed “Aadhi aabaadi ki poori bhagidari” (full participation of half the population, i.e women): “In the midst of bomb blasts in the capital, women flocked in large numbers to the Khabardar Rally from far flung districts.” When asked if they weren’t scared of the blasts, Mitri Devi and Devti Devi of Jehanabad replied, “Dar lagte hal ta Rally me aiti hali?” (If we were scared would we have come to the Rally?)

Little children – boys and girls – came with their parents. Some young boys and youth sported red headbands with the Party’s name written on them. A middle-aged woman mukhiya from Siwan was leading her folks, alongside a male comrade, the mukhiya of the adjacent village. She said that an estimated 20,000 people were expected to arrive from Siwan alone. They had chipped in their meagre resources to book buses to Patna. A passerby enquired about what the rally was about. Pat came the reply, ‘Modi ka jabab dene ko Patiya ka rally’ (It’s our Party’s rally to give a fitting reply to Modi). What was most significant is that the people had come with their families and children defying bomb-scares, rumours of more blasts and braving the trouble and confusion created by Bihar Police’s last-minute shifting of the rally venue from the earlier slated Gandhi Maidan. The Dainik Jagaran on 30 October and Hindustan on 31 October spoke to Khabardar Rally participants, asking them, “Aren’t you scared of the bomb blasts?” The answers were inspiring. The rural poor, landless, many from oppressed castes, and many women, said, “Bombs and guns can’t scare us. If we get scared and don’t come, how can our party function? How can we fight for our rights?” The sheer resolve and resilience set the mood for the day.

After the rally got over, Beer Chand Patel Path was gradually taken over by the usual traffic. Red flags over their shoulders, people were returning to their villages, carrying their lofty red ant dream. With a steely pledge never to let Bihar turn into a Gujarat. Never to let another Laxmanpur-Bathe on the soils of Bihar ever again. As the rally song summed it up: ‘Gareeb ke gaddar, suno samantan ke yaar! Khabardar khabardar! Gujarat na ha, houve ee Bihar!’ (Betrayers of the poor, friends of feudalism! Beware, beware! This ain’t Gujarat, this is Bihar).

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