Driving a Tata Nano covered with banners about his son's killing by the Mumbai police, Kundan Prasad Singh is fighting his first election to get justice for a dead child.
Reportage: Archana Masih/Rediff.com in Madhopur panchayat, near Patna. Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com
A white Nano is Kundan Prasad Singh's campaign office, campaign vehicle and campaign entourage.
The election campaign so far has cost him Rs 60,000, which is the expense for petrol, printed pamphlets and a hired autorickshaw. He drives the Nano himself, accompanied by two of his nephews, who carry small placards with pictures of his deceased son, gunned by the Mumbai police after he hijacked a city bus wielding a country-made pistol on October 27, 2008.
There are no other cars, motorcycles that follow his campaign -- Kundan Prasad is a lone warrior in this electoral battle, fired by the memory of his son Rahul Raj, 25, who he says was brutally killed on the eve of Diwali and sent home in a cold coffin box.
"This is a fight for justice. My son was not a criminal. He was not carrying an AK-47 but an unsophisticated pistol. The police say he shot and injured a passenger. He could have been disarmed, but instead was shot from close range, they put five bullets into him," says Kundan Singh, his eyes moist, surrounded by at least 50 people from the village called Tata Colony, after the company set up temporary shelters for flood victims a few decades ago.
"Hum aam aadmiyon ko taarikh par taarikh milti hai par insaaf nahi milta," he says, which reminds you of Sunny Deol's dialogue summing up people's frustration on not getting justice in the 1993 film Damini.
"I am fighting this election to get justice for the cruel death of my son. I lit his funeral pyre on Diwali."
"Like Arvind Kejriwal said if you want to fight for justice, take your fight from the streets to Parliament. Win power and then fight otherwise you'll die agitating on the streets, no one will hear you," says Singh, who secured his Aam Aadmi Party candidature after applying online, and is contesting from Patliputra, Bihar.
The Nano is a gift from his other son, an employee with Tata Motors in Lucknow. Kundan Singh worked as a supervisor at the workshop of Mithila Motors, a car showroom that wound up operations after incidents of hooliganism across car shops in Patna -- particularly after former chief minister Lalu Yadav's brother-in-law's goons allegedly drove out unsold new cars for the wedding celebration of Lalu's second daughter.
That daughter's elder sister, Misa Bharti, is the Rashtriya Janata Dal candidate against Kundan Prasad Singh, who subsequently started an automobile workshop in the spare space he had outside his home. He has closed that workshop too.
A few days ago, Misa Bharti came to the same village asking for votes. "The whole village had come out to meet her. She and him (Kundan Prasad Singh) are the only two netas who have ever come to this village," says Meera Devi, a vocal matriarch, who lives in a joint family and does not remember the exact number of family members that share her dark home that looks like a honeycomb.
"At the time of election they give bottles (alcohol) to the men and what do the women get? Nothing, not even a laddoo!" she adds, taking us inside the inner rooms of her home where the women of the house are washing clothes beneath a hand pump. An infant sleeps nearby, a pink portable mosquito net protecting it from a swarm of flies.
Meera Devi's daughter, the mother of a toddler she carries on her hip, stopped going to school after Class 10. "I do the household chores and sit around other times. Wish there was a job for women here that I could do," says the girl with kohl-lined eyes.
The village with around 6,000 voters is located 35 odd kilometres outside Patna. While Narendra Modi hoardings are the only campaign billboards one sees of a political party in the city, the Election Commission's giant hoardings with Virat Kohli, Saina Nehwal, Mahendra Singh Dhoni urging voters to vote dominates the city skyline.
There are more ad campaigns cashing in on the election season --- Airtel, Uninor, media groups like ABP, Hindustan, a newspaper group asking voters to maro vote ki chot.
But in the interiors of Maner, Modi and the other poll billboards fade out and are replaced by Pulse Polio posters bearing the dates of the latest immunisation drive.
"Modi ki leher to mehsoos hoti hain (I can feel the Modi wave)," says Vicky Kumar, a BA student, disappointed that he has not received his voter's card. Dominated by the Yadav community, most we spoke to in the village said they would vote for their caste but hold their cards close, not revealing which Yadav they would choose -- Lalu's daughter Misa Bharati or his friend-turned-foe Ram Kripal Yadav of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
On the same day, Narendra Modi was addressing four public meetings in Bihar, one for Ram Kripal Yadav in a place called Bikram close by.
"The men of the family decide who we should vote for. Even if we want to vote for someone else, they (the political parties) will come to know that the vote didn't go to them after the election and our boys will get beaten," says another woman, frustrated that whoever they vote for, no neta has given them what they need most -- clean water and a nala (drain) to provide an outlet for sewage.
The water filter in the house has thick brown debris like sedimentation, almost 6 inches high, while the filtered drinking water is yellow.
Many are confused about Kundan Prasad Singh's Aam Aadmi Party; some don't get the name quite right.
"Aam Aadmi Janta Party will win this time," says Zamindar Yadav, an elder who is helping Kundan Prasd Singh around neighbouring villages.
"Lalu na bhaloo, ab chalega jhadoo (No Laloo, only the broom, the AAP's electoral symbol) ," he says, walking alongside Kundan Prasad Singh, who is distributing pamphlets door to door.
Printed on cheap paper, it bears a picture of Rahul Raj, with a description of his death in the quest for Bihari asmita (pride) and ends with a poem evoking people to leave those zalims (oppressors) that perpetuate such horrors and join Kejriwal.
"They silenced my son, but I won't remain silent. I took my case to court in Patna but it was rejected because the incident happened in Mumbai. My son's body was handed to me at my door, where else will I file my case?" he asks.
Unhappy with the response of the National Human Rights Commission and the courts so far, he has approached the People's Union for Civil Liberties and hopes to file a writ petition in the Supreme Court.
'When I saw how the government treated Anna Hazare, I felt the same pain as Anna must have experienced. 99.9% encounters that take place in this country are fake. Even the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes have been provided access to due process of law, but encounters happen regularly and the government justifies it."
The tears well up again.
"One encounter killing results in turning a whole family into police-haters. All my son wanted was to raise a voice against the treatment of Biharis in Mumbai."
Kundan Prasad Singh says his son Rahul Raj was upset after some of his friends were beaten up by Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena activists in Mumbai when they went there to appear for the Railways entrance exam. "He was a sentimental boy. He did not mean any harm and look what they did to him. None of the police officers were brought to book for this incident," he says.
The police statement and media reports claim Rahul Raj took the bus and some passengers hostage, shot and injured a passenger and threatened to kill Raj Thackeray. The Mumbai police shot Rahul when he refused to put down the weapon.
Bihar MPs protested against his killing in Parliament -- making the case a metaphor for the violence against North Indians in Mumbai at that time.
Many politicians visited Kundan Prasad Singh at the time of his tragedy. "But once the TV cameras receded, the politicians did the same," he says.
"Sympathy more than politics is what people feel for me," he says. "I am overwhelmed by their support."
In a state that continues to vote on the basis of caste, he urges people to rise above caste, religion and vote for a cause and vote for Bihari pride.
Watching him leave her homestead, Meera Devi looks at the pamphlet and says, "Inkey bete ke bare mein hum ko nahin maloom tha. Itna mamata lagta hai. (I didn't know about his son's case. It makes my heart go out to him)."
Will her vote go to him or not, Kundan Prasad Singh does not know. But regardless of the outcome of his first electoral battle, he says he will never give up fighting for his son.