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Rabri Devi's favorite chores are
chopping, kneading & making pickles

For the three weeks that she was out of power as India's only woman chief minister, Rabri Devi indulged in her favourite chores - chopping vegetables, kneading dough and tending to her rather large brood.

F or the three weeks that she was out of power as India's only woman chief minister, Rabri Devi indulged in her favourite chores - chopping vegetables, kneading dough and tending to her rather large brood.

"I love cooking. My children help me a lot," she beams.

With Indian President K. R. Narayanan accepting the federal cabinet's decision to revoke the proclamation of federal rule in the eastern state of Bihar, Rabri Devi, wife of the colourful Laloo Prasad Yadav, is getting ready to be back in the hot seat, after an interregnum she might actually have enjoyed.

Clad in a simple blue cotton sari, her hair hung loose, the 39-year-old born-again chief minister-in-waiting looks every inch the quintessential Indian housewife she has always been. So much so that her political pronouncements, however acerbic, sound incongruous.

Amid innumerable phone calls and roars of victory, she adjures the government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to resign "if it had any self-respect" and spews venom at Governor Sundar Singh Bhandari, who has often been accused of being a political agent of the federal government.

"Bhandari should leave the state within five minutes with bag and baggage," she told India Abroad News Service. Much of the politics she now spouts is prompted by cabinet members and relations. The short political speech over, she is back to her favourite topic: cooking and housekeeping. In fact, it is for this reason that her office is the outhouse of her residence, "I sit here because then I can oversee my home also," she told IANS. Asked if she enjoys her forced tryst with politics, she says with newly acquired aplomb: "I look after the state the way I look after the family, it is not difficult at all."

Federal rule was imposed in this second most populous Indian state on February 12, following a series of massacres by a private army run by rich land-owners. Though the federal coalition government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was quick to issue marching orders to Rabri Devi, it needed to get the proclamation ratified in Parliament.

Vajpayee's government burnt the toast in Parliament when all attempts to woo the opposition Congress party was wrecked by its chief Sonia Gandhi. An adamant Gandhi refused to support the government on the issue. Although the proclamation had got the nod of the Lok Sahba, or Lower House of Parliament, the BJP-led government did not have enough votes to push it through the Rajya Sabha or Upper House.

As the scene shifted to New Delhi, Rabri Devi was ensconced in her palatial residence in 1, Anne Marg, Patna, for three weeks, and was busy cooking her family's favourite dishes. In any case, this is exactly what she had done all her life before the mantle was thrust upon her by Yadav almost one and a half years ago.

Accused of conniving in a massive embezzlement case while he was chief minister, Yadav made sure his wife would keep the chair warm for him while he languished in an isolation cell. Now, once again, Rabri Devi will have to put all her culinary expertise on the backburner. Top of the agenda is revenge against those who, according to her, "did injustice by dismissing the government".

The next few days would be hectic for Rabri Devi; she wants to undo all political and bureaucratic decisions taken by the governor. All important decisions pertaining to finance, planning and other developmental schemes would be thoroughly scrutinised, she says.

However, with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) government in Bihar have returned the same fears -- of lack of governance. To begin with, it would give a fresh lease of life to the troubled legacy it left behind 25 days ago, particularly in respect to the ongoing work stoppage by over 600,000 employees of the state government.

For months the virtual seat of power was a mosquito-infested cell in the prison where Yadav was lodged. His word was writ, Rabri Devi would only mouth it to keep up the facade of democracy.

Rabri Devi was initiated into politics when she was 14 and chosen to be the wife of Laloo Yadav, then leader of the university students union. Fourth in a brood of seven, she had stopped carrying her satchel to school and would spend her days playing with friends or taking care of the kitchen. Her father was a small-time contractor who also owned fair price-shops in Salaarbazaar, a remote village in north Bihar. Yadav then lived in a thatched hut in a neighbouring village and not many could predict that one day he would rule the roost in Indian politics.

Married in 1973, Ratari Devi brought as dowry - a huge plot of land, two cows and jewellery. A typical Indian housewife, she and the family then shared a room in the servants' quarters where Yadav's three other brothers lived. Yadav was then dabbling in politics and money in the household was scarce. She sowed wheat and mustard on government land to make both ends meet.

"But it was never difficult, we all lived like a family and shared the woes," she says in her broken Hindi. But politics never left their stead, their first child was born when Yadav was arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act and the bonny girl was appropriately christened Misa; a son is lovingly called Kursi (chair) because Yadav then adorned the chief minister's chair.

Today, politics is ingrained in every member of the family; the Yadavs' young son is said to have led rallies and even taught the legislators a lesson or two in the art of sticking together in times of crises. When the announcement of revocation of President's rule was made in the Parliament, the Yadavs' little daughter was seen congratulating friends and officials.

From husband to wife, power has now trickled down to the Yadav children. There is more in store for the state from the Yadav family.

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