Frontline Volume 17 - Issue 06, Mar. 18 - 31, 2000
India's National Magazine
from the publishers of THE HINDU


Table of Contents

COVER STORY

The criminal background

KALYAN CHAUDHURI

IT appears that crime and corruption are non-issues for the voters of Bihar. All the underworld dons and scamsters who contested the polls either from behind bars or from hiding, were elected with big margins. For Surajbhan Singh, Ranjan Tiwary, Dhumal S ingh, Sunil Pandey, Munna Sukla, Zakir Ahmed, Suresh Pasi and Rama Singh, all accused of offences such as murder, kidnapping and extortion, the victory came easy as they did not have to bother personally about their campaign. Likewise, politicians char ge-sheeted in cases relating to the fodder scam, such as R.K. Rana and Jagadish Sharma, also won. Former Minister for Road Construction Illiyas Hussain, arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with the bitumen scam, too won by a han dsome margin.

The victory of underworld dons is a clear indication that the expectations of the electorate have been changing with the collapse of the government machinery in the State. "It appears that the people have begun to revere criminals," remarked a senior pol itical leader. Even Laloo Prasad Yadav, who had released during the electioneering a list of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidates having criminal backgrounds, has now "mellowed". "They have now become honourable members of the House," he said an d attributed their victory to caste vote banks.

Leaders of the NDA conveniently skirted the issue. In fact, several of them visited the Beur and Hajipur jails to ensure the support of Surajbhan, Ranjan, Shukla and Rama. The RJD engaged one of its MLAs with a questionable record to keep in touch with t he legislators in jails. Senior BJP leader Kailashpati Mishra and Samata Party leader Nitish Kumar defended their decision to field criminals on the grounds of their "winnability".

Within 24 hours of Nitish Kumar's swearing in as Chief Minister on March 3, citizens of Patna began to feel the weight of legislators with criminal backgrounds. Independent MLA Dhumal Singh, who supported the Nitish Kumar Government, forcibly occupied th e office of the Maulana Mazhar-ul-Haque Arabic-Persian University. Dhumal left the place after posting some of his associates there. A person who runs a coaching institute in Patna complained to the police that the local don had demanded Rs.25,000 to "ce lebrate the enthronement of Nitish Kumar."

Dhumal, elected from Banipur, has been absconding for the past 22 years and is on the wanted list in four States. He has secretly visited his constituency without making any attempt to appear in public; he never campaigned personally or attended public m eetings. This time, Dhumal did not turn up to take the oath as MLA fearing arrest. Another absconding criminal, Sunil Pandey, elected from Piro in Bhojpur district of central Bihar, too did not appear in the Assembly.

Ironically, supporters of the jailed MLA-elect Surajbhan Singh are campaigning to make Mokama, Surajbhan's constituency, a 'crime-free' zone. Mokama in central Bihar, once represented by Shyam Sundar Dheeraj, was infamous for booth-capturing. Dheeraj was later defeated by Dilip Singh, a much-feared don of the area, who was made a Minister by Laloo Prasad. This time round, the jailed Surajbhan trounced Dilip Singh.

A significant fact about the newly elected underworld dons is that almost all of them belong to the upper castes. Besides, their area of operation is either north and central Bihar or Uttar Pradesh and Nepal. Surajbhan, against whom there are over 100 ca ses of murder, extortion and kidnapping pending, is considered the uncrowned king of Mokama.

As a rule, criminals are not confined to any particular caste or region, yet it cannot be denied that in the post-Mandal years the upper castes have thrown up more of them than in the past. There are half a dozen private armies maintained by affluent upp er caste farmers.

Surajbhan Singh, Ranjan Tiwary, Munna Sukla and Rama Singh, who were brought in a prison van from the Beur jail to the Assembly, took oath as members of the House amidst thumping of desk by NDA members. The four legislators shook hands with pro tem Speak er Bisheshwar Khan after signing the Assembly register. The Speaker informed the House that all the four had come to take oath after getting permission from the court. After oath-taking, the four visited Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in his chamber. Violat ing court orders, they spent the night in a posh Patna hotel. The next day, they were spotted at a luncheon party thrown by Janata Dal(U) leader Pasupati Paras, brother of Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan. A police team led by Patna District Magistrate Am it Khare picked them up from Paras' residence and took them back to jail. An upright Indian Administration Service officer, Khare, who first exposed the fodder scam when he was District Magistrate at Chaibasa, had an altercation with Paswan, who was pres ent at the party. Paswan asked Khare to leave the jailed MLAs alone until the time of the trust vote the next day but Khare refused to oblige him.


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