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Helicopters draw more crowds than leaders in rural Bihar

About 20 helicopters have been pressed into action by parties, with the BJP and its allies using the most

Sahil Makkar  |  Patna/Jehanabad 

Helicopters draw more crowd than leaders in rural Bihar

At 2.30 pm, about 500 people began gathering in a large open ground, next to a river, in Buknari village to welcome their sitting legislator and former Bihar chief minister, Jiten Ram Manjhi, who is contesting election from the Makhdumpur constituency. Manjhi was schedule to arrive at 3 pm.

In the meantime, Manjhi's supporters, mostly women and children, formed a circle around the barricaded helipad. Their eyes kept scanning the sky for their leader. Their wait was short as Manjhi arrived 3.15 pm, leaving the crowd enthralled.

Manjhi's helicopter deliberately circled the village for some seconds before landing in the middle of the crowd, which braved the dust storm kicked up by the rotators. Manjhi began addressing the crowd from a distant stage but to his chagrin, most of the people gathered were more interested in the machine. Manjhi was also upset with the low turnout. "If it was some other place, I would not have even landed my helicopter. But since it is my home, I am letting this feeling go. Now, you ensure that I win in the elections," he told the gathering.

Similar scenes were repeated in Jamui and Bhagalpur constituencies, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s ally, Upendra Kushwaha was campaigning for candidates of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). "When we were children, we used to get excited by seeing a car in our village, so your enthusiasm for a helicopter is understood," Kushwaha told the masses, where youth were attempting to breach the security cordons to get closer to the Bell 429 chopper.

Sudhir Malik, head of SpanAir, says in rural areas, helicopters continue to be the biggest crowd puller. Malik has been flying politicians from both Congress and BJP for years. In the Bihar elections, his company has been hired to fly leaders of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

"The flying charge for a single engine helicopter is around Rs 1.5 lakh per hour and for the double engine, it is between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 2.5 lakh depending on the condition of the machine," Malik says.

About 20 helicopters have been pressed into action by parties, with the BJP and its allies using the most. The Congress, Janata Dal United and the Rashtriya Janata Dal have two helicopters each, while Pappu Yadav is using one. The flying started on September 26, the last day for withdrawal of nominations for the first phase.

The helicopters, however, are not the only attention-grabbers. Larger-than-life hoardings inadvertently invite attention to the slogans of the parties and their leaders.

The BJP is the only party which has managed to put its banners and posters inside both the Patna airport and the railway station. Its posters and hoarding only carry pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his key lieutenant Amit Shah exhorting people, "Badliye sarkar, badliye Bihar"(change government, change Bihar). The other slogans read: "Parivar ki dawai ke liye, badliye sarkar, badliye Bihar" (For medicines for your family, change the government, change Bihar).

It seems Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and ally Lalu Yadav have taken the BJP's bantering seriously. Kumar's hoardings read: "Bahut hua jumlo ka var, fir ek bar Nitish Kumar" (Enough of false poll promises, this time vote for Nitish Kumar), "Jhanse mai na aaynge, fir Nitish Kumar ko jitaynge" (Will not be fooled, will make Nitish Kumar victorious).

First Published: Tue, October 20 2015. 00:20 IST