ON A SCORCHING MORNING in April, Nitish Kumar’s helicopter jerkily touched down on a coarse village pad in west Champaran, stirring up a blinding dust cloud. Kumar disembarked, the rotors still whining, inspiring a roar from the waiting crowd pushed back by baton-swinging policemen. He waved as he climbed into his car. The crowd roared again. They sprang behind his siren-screaming convoy. Two minutes into the village, Kumar’s car shrieked to an unexpected halt. His convoy nearly careened out of control into a dirt embankment. Kumar stepped out to another mob eager to swallow him. They pushed and shoved, desperate for his attention. Those who couldn’t get close scowled at security officials.
Cutting through the swelling crowds, Kumar launched an impromptu tour of the scruffy village. He went inside the airless public food distribution godown, leafed through the lengthy lists of beneficiaries, and chided the block development officer for the needless delays in distributing the sorghum and wheat. He went to the local middle school, tested if the kids had learned their tables and the teachers could spell their names. He waltzed unannounced into the school kitchen and felt between his fingers morsels of the piping hot chhola-chawal to personally investigate if the school kids’ mid-day meal was freshly cooked. Walking through the dusty village streets, he stopped and asked random old women if they were receiving their widow’s pensions and other government doles.
A crowd of photographers chased him. He seemed like a king among his subjects. But negotiating Kumar’s multi-layered security cordon wasn’t easy. With notebook in hand, I frequently found myself snared in ugly verbal exchanges with gun-wielding security men whenever I breached the perimeter.