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What's 'VIP' about Chhapra?

A Correspondent | April 26, 2004 16:08 IST

Laloo Yadav's speeches are to be heard to be believed. You like it or not, you will laugh -- at how inane or funny they can be, depending on your interpretation.

While addressing a rally in Chhapra, where he is in a tooth-and-nail contest with the sitting MP Rajiv Pratap Rudy of the BJP, Laloo said something, which when paraphrased goes like this:

"When you press the button for the RJD, it will go t-e-e. Here when it goes t-e-e, Vajpayeeji will go tui [finish]."

Whether such tactics from Laloo will work in Chhapra, will be known to Laloo, Rudy and the rest of the country in a fortnight. But Chhapra, a little known town and constituency in Bihar till now, has never seen this kind of attention before.

The media has labelled it as 'VIP constituency,' if anything Chhapra town is far from one.

Bijli, Paani have been its biggest problems for decades that now they have become part of the course.

Hathwa market which used to be a central shopping district till 15 years ago, is a sorry sight with garbage dumped right at the centre of the market square. There is just about one decent family restaurant called MacRonald's, movie halls are in shambles and ambulance services take patients to Patna, 80 km away, in case of emergencies.

There are positives as well. Cyber cafes are easily found. The roads have improved marginally, shopping complexes have been built. All visible sights of a change for the better.

Chhapra, the media's VIP constituency, is polling today.

And there has been trouble.

Electronic Voting Machines have been taken away from some booths, some local residents said, adding that one presiding officer fled the scene with the remaining EVMs to deposit in the control room.

A few EVMs did not work properly and voters have been asked to wait for a replacement.

There have been clashes between Laloo's Rashtriya Janata Dal and the BJP; unconfirmed reports claimed two BJP workers have died.

Udit Rai, the RJD MLA, was pelted with stones which provoked his bodyguards to open fire, resulting in five injured. Two motorcycles were burnt at another booth. 

Reports have also come about armed RJD hoodlums in neighbouring Parsa and incidents of grenade attacks at some booths. In another incident a man was injured in firing and admitted to the Chhapra hospital.

The district administration -- Chhapra is the district headquarters -- has stopped every mode of transport in the town. Even cycles and cycle rickshaws are not permitted on the streets.

Voters have had to trek to their booths on foot; About 25 percent voting has been registered till the afternoon.

The administration is being criticised for not having deploying the police in sufficient numbers. One source said a recommendation has been made for a repoll in 150 polling booths.

Thana chowk, the town's central point, has been inundated by media crews. In a couple of hours, polling will conclude. Laloo will return to 1, Anne Marg, his wife's chief ministerial bungalow in Patna and Rudy to his home in Delhi.

The television cameras will return too.

Chhapra would have had its run as the VIP constituency.


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