Man of his word
The Pioneer, 21st August 2000
Rana Ajit
Tete-a-Tete with Ram Vilas paswan

A promise is a promise and just a promise, made to be broken sooner rather than later. More so if it has been made by a politician, for politics is a dirty profession, suggests popular opinion.

But Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan does care. He not only remembers his promises made to the masses, but also makes an honest and sincere attempt to fulfill them. Otherwise, they weigh heavy on his conscience. Probably that s what makes Paswan a darling of the masses.

The fact that the man cares for his vachan was all too evident in one of his non-formal meetings with a few scribes and others after a formal press conference in the Parliament premises a few months back. It was February 24. Two days earlier, Bihar had undergone the third phase of polling and the alleged incidents of Laloo s musclemen capturing booths with impunity had left the Janata Dal (United) leader seething with anger and frustration.

The press conference had been convened to apprise the media of the polling malpractices by ruling RJD thugs in the state. One of the several malpractices, which figured in the briefing by Paswan, pertained to the RJD candidate from Fatwa reserved assembly segment, under Barh parliamentary constituency. The RJD candidate from this reserved constituency allegedly happened to be a candidate belonging to the backward class, thanks to a fake caste certificate procured by him.

After the briefing, some of the scribes decided to hang on around Paswan to gauge his willingness to accept the Bihar Chief Ministership, despite his consistent denial during the past few days that he was not interested in the job. The talks eventually veered round to the lack of development in the state. Both the parliamentarian and the scribes found themselves in agreement, that the lack of political will and Laloo s who-cares-attitude on his famous promises like main bihar ke sarko ko hema ki gaal jaisa chikna bana doonga were responsible for the sordid lack of development in the state.

It was around this time that one of the journalists present and apparently meeting Paswan for the first time simply introduced himself as a native of a village (he didn t name his village) in Fatwa constituency. He went on to make a rather uncharitable charge against him, Mr Paswan, your record in keeping your word has not been very bright. I know of at least one village, where people are still awaiting the fulfillment of your promises.

Bhai, I have made just one promise to them, not many. I promised them a bridge on the Punpun river running by their village. You are talking of Alawalpur in Fatwa constituency aren t you? You belong to that village, don t you? Paswan told the scribe with a disarming smile. He added, I m still trying my best for a bridge but certain administrative difficulties have been plaguing the project. And surely you have noticed that I haven t visited your village in the recent past. I will visit the place only to inaugurate the bridge.

It was now the turn of the scribe to be taken by surprise, rather pleasantly though. Here was a VVIP like Paswan, who not only remembered his promises but even managed to figure out, without as much as a concrete hint, which village was being referred to.

This left the scribe blurting out, I salute you, sir,.. for your memory and for your commitment to your words.

His voters in Vaishali have been just as loyal, electing him twice and giving him record margins once by 4.67 lakh votes and then in 1989 by 5.14 lakhs. Born and brought up in a remote village, Saharbanni in Khagaria district of Bihar, Paswan surely knows the importance of a bridge over a river running by a village and often deluging the village during the monsoon and keeping it cut off from the rest of the world for the rest of the year. His own village is surrounded by a couple of streams, such that you cannot walk beyond a kilometre or two in any direction without crossing them twice.

Paswan had to cross each of these two streams at least twice, almost daily, till his mid-teens, to reach school, initially to the primary one in Jagmohra village, four kilometres away in district Darbhanga (then Samastipur) and later to other schools, in Mehauna and Gadhpura villages, both more than 15 km away.

Surely, the lack of a bridge over the river by his own village and other basic amenities weighed heavy on the mind of a young Paswan. He does not mind making some sincere promises for a bridge here or a school there, for he knows well how to reach people through non-existent bridges.

Paswan finally moved out of his village to attend higher secondary school in his district town, Khagaria. After completing higher secondary in 1961 and then graduation, Paswan moved to Patna to do his post-graduation and subsequently law from Patna University. It was the lack of accommodation for students in the university which forced him into politics. I got embroiled in politics while trying to solve lodging problems faced by me as well as my colleagues in the university, remembers Paswan.

It was during this period that I was influenced by socialism and came into contact with Dr Ram Manohar Lohia. I ended up running for the Begusarai Assembly seat in 1969 from Dr Lohia s Sanykta Socialist Party and eventually won it, Paswan recalls. He wistfully adds, The victory turned out to be quite a prestigious one as I had humbled the sitting MLA who had never lost the election since day one.

Around the same time, Paswan had achieved another feat in his career. He sat for the Bihar Civil Service examination and had been selected for the post of deputy superintendent in the Bihar Police. This complicated the situation for him back home.

My father was not at all happy with my victory. He never wanted me to venture into politics. He categorically told me to quit politics and don the police uniform. But as I insisted that I wanted to sit in the Assembly, he declared me a bigra nawab , reminisces Paswan.

His father, the late Jamna Das, had reason to be unhappy with his son at his childish decision to stick to politics. Despite being a farmer, he had educated his son and had expected him to share the burden of his old age by working in a regular government job. But here was a rebel preferring the uncharted course of politics to a prestigious government job. The son apparently had his goals fixed he wanted to serve the country rather than his family alone. And a few decades down the line, he has proved that his was not a wrong decision in 1969.

Despite acquiring the stature that Paswan now enjoys, he apparently believes in Gandhian simplicity. Not quite a health freak, he does find something amiss in a day if he happens to miss his exercise in the morning. I try to exercise even when I am indisposed, he will smile at you, while informing you of his love for exercise.

Another remarkable aspect of his simplicity is reflected in his insistence on lunch with his Man Friday, P S Rathee, who currently assists him as one of his private secretaries. Certainly such simplicity works as the much-needed bridge between the leader and his followers.

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