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Phulwaria (Gopalganj), May 6: If one nephew has stirred a political storm in Delhi, another, in a remote corner of Bihar, continues to be the custodian of his illustrious uncle’s gift to his roots. Like Vijay Singla, the man at the centre of the controversy surrounding his maternal uncle and railway minister Pawan Bansal, Rajesh is the son of Lalu Prasad’s sister. But the similarities end there. While Vijay has gone behind bars in a bribery case, landing his mama in a soup, Rajesh, a semi-literate youth whom Lalu employed as Grade 4... more...
lightman when he was railway minister, waves the family flag, never ceasing to remind locals of the “godly gift” that “Lalu bhagwan” has built for them — the glitzy railway station at Phulwaria, a village 140km northwest of Patna. This is no ordinary station — Phulwaria, tucked away in a remote western corner of Gopalganj district, is Lalu Prasad’s home. One does not need a platform ticket to enter the station — there are neither ticket-sellers nor ticket-checkers around. Just one train halts here, a passenger service that originates from Bathua, 3km away. The train stops at Phulwaria around 5am on its way to Mirganj, Siwan, Chhapra and Hajipur. It halts again at 11 in the night, on its return journey. The railway station that Lalu got built in 2006-07 serves more as a resthouse for locals — and its backyard doubles as a safe place to stock crops and livestock. Every time the blaze of the sun becomes unbearable, the mercury touches 45 degrees Celsius, Phulwaria’s residents, among them Lalu Prasad’s relatives, and their cattle head for the station. Its high roof, airy rooms and verandahs, resplendent sofas, water cooler and water purifier offer an escape from the blistering heat. “Aap yahan aakar mehsoos kar sakte hain. Laluji aadmi nahin, bhagwan hain. Mahal banwa diye hain jahan hum dhoop-barish se bach sakte hain (Having come here, you can feel that Laluji is not a man, he is god. He has built such a majestic mansion for us to escape from the heat or rain),” says Rajesh, who is in his mid-twenties. Dozens of Lalu’s relatives and co-villagers were reclining comfortably on the station’s sofas and benches when The Telegraph chanced upon them. Few railway stations on the Bathua-Mirganj-Chhpara-Hajipur section of East Central Railway look as majestic as the one at Phulwaria. So well maintained is the station that one can see one’s face clearly in the glazed tiles adorning its floors. The sofas and benches made of stainless steel are in pristine condition — a far cry from what one normally gets to see in railway stations of Bihar. Apart from Rajesh, who mans the station, the only other staff member at the station is Sheobachan Yadav, a local promoted from coolie to gangman. “Rajeshji is mahal ke malik hain (Rajesh is the master of this mansion),” says the elderly Sheobachan. Rajesh mutters a feeble rebuttal, “Main malik nahin hoon. Jo ata hai uski seva karta hoon. Laluji kahte hain jo aye uska seva karo (I am not a master. I serve whosoever comes here, as instructed by Laluji)”. Sources say the railways had outsourced its ticket-booking business to private contractors. But an employee said: “The contractors man the counter briefly, from 4am to 4.45am (just before the passenger train arrives) and then vanish for the next 24 hours.” For a layman, Phulwaria — a settlement of around 500 people — hardly requires a railway station, least of all one equipped with such expensive infrastructure. The station has vast tracts of farmland filled with kharif crop on its northern side. Rabri Devi’s Selar village is just 1km away and can be reached on foot or by bicycle, but it too is equipped with a railway halt built when Lalu was railway minister. Authorities at the busy Siwan railway junction, just 30km away, were evasive on queries about Phulwaria station. “I am a mere mortal, please spare me… I won’t utter a word on Phulwaria,” said a senior railway official there. None of the other officials were forthcoming on the special status for Phulwaria. Phulwaria settlers, though, are content with what their son-of-the-soil has given them. “I had only a hut to protect myself from the rain and heat. Now, I have this huge mansion to live in,” says Murat Majhi, whose thatched home is right behind the railway station. He has even planted a tree near the tracks and uses water from the railway station to irrigate it, unmindful of the fact that the premises are not his property to plant a tree in. But, for Murat, too, Lalu is “god” and planting a tree is “punya ka kaam (service to god)”. The BJP, JD(U) and other opponents of the RJD chief have often accused Lalu of employing his relatives and villagers in the railways. It is not as if none of Lalu’s relatives have thrown their weight around when he was railway minister. Stories abound of how his brothers-in-law, Sadhu Yadav and Subhas Yadav, stopped the Rajdhani Express several times at Patna as per their whims. Once, even Rabri Devi’s father, Sheoprasad Choudhary, was caught travelling without a ticket with hordes of supporters and relatives, from Hajipur to Siwan, something that earned Lalu enough bad publicity. To Bansal’s relief, Lalu has been sympathetic to him. “Bansal ek imandar admi hain (Bansal is an honest man). Relatives and workers have a tendency to indulge in financial indiscretions once their man occupies the seat of power. But, Bansal should not be held guilty for his relatives’ misdemeanours,” Lalu said.
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