Bihar to the bad

Nitish Kumar And The Politics Of Caste


by NK Singh

MR LK Advani, whom I have always held in high esteem, once told me that "a party based on caste politics does not have much of a future". The words ring a bell in the aftermath of the brutal murder of Brahmeshwar Singh alias Mukhiya, the Ranvir Sena chief, on 1 June in his village at  Arrah, Bihar. The fact of the matter is that behind the façade of ‘good governance’, ‘development’ and ‘peace and order’ in Bihar, lies the caste combination which Nitish Kumar, over the years, has assiduously woven as his vote-bank. It is no secret that the caste to which Brahameshwar Singh Mukhiya belonged had provided considerable support to the Chief Minister’s brand of politics.

Mr Kumar had to contend with criticism soon after assuming power in 2006. The Amir Das Commission, which had been set up to probe the Ranvir Sena’s role and the complicity of several politicians, was scrapped.  It is this critical support-base which has suffered a jolt in the wake of the killing of Brahameshwar Singh Mukhiya and perhaps the story may not be the same again. What Mr Advani had said some years ago now seems to haunt Nitish Kumar and his government. Having lent crucial support to his government, , the large caste-based supporters of Brahameshwar now feel cheated and are, therefore, enraged. They suspect a conspiracy and have demanded a CBI investigation. The violence, indulged in by Brahameshwar’s supporters has exposed the hollowness of the government’s claim that it has been remarkably effective in the enforcement of law and the . maintenance of order in Bihar.

When Arrah’s Superintendent of Police visited the spot, he was asked to leave and he did make a hasty retreat. Next day, when the DGP, Bihar, an officer who belongs to the same community arrived, he was roughed up.  When the state BJP chief and a well-known physician ~ also of the same community ~ tried to join the funeral procession en route to Patna, he too was roughed up and his vehicle damaged. Over the next few days, the area witnessed a near total collapse of law  and order and the abject surrender of the administration to the unruly mob. The breakdown of law and order affected Arrah, the road to Patna and Patna proper. A helpless administration was a mute witness to the wanton destruction of property.

This collapse was partly rooted in the state of policing in Bihar today. Disregarding the Supreme Court order on police reforms (2006) on the writ petition of Prakash Singh and this writer, the Nitish Kumar government promulgated a new Police Act of 2007, worse than what the British had promulgated in 1861. As a result, the police feel subjugated and demoralised, with a tendency to toe the line of political masters. Police training and modernization have been totally neglected. Hazaribagh Police Training Centre is now in Jharkhand. Bihar has no police training institution, college or academy worth the name. Nothing worthwhile has been attempted to restore the glorious past of the Bihar police. Many senior officers are a law unto themselves. If it suits its political purpose, the ruling class openly patronises criminal elements, some of whom belong to the same caste as that of Brahameshwar Singh Mukhiya. There are hoardings in Patna showing two top leaders of the government in the company of  mafia dons.

Nitish Kumar is not the first Chief Minister who has tried to build up a power base by exploiting the caste factor. Lalu Prasad was equally adept in social engineering with a political objective. But he was honest enough to admit that he had built up his power base by enlisting the support of Yadavs, Muslims and Rajputs. No wonder that except Lalu, the three other  members of the Lok Sabha of his party from Bihar are all Rajputs.

The people of Bihar had expected the present dispensation to effect a break with the past. That hope has been belied fair and square by the present government. And it was a thunderbolt that struck the state on 1 June this year. Television channels repeatedly aired the news that the murdered  Brahameshwar  Mukhiya was a  Gandhian. He was out on bail after a long spell in prison in connection with the Bathani Tola case in which 21 Dalits were massacred (July 1996).   He was also allegedly involved in the gruesome Laxampur Bathe massacre, in which 62 Dalit men, women and children were butchered in December 1997. He carried a reward of Rs 5 lakh on his head till he was arrested.

If such a person is a Gandhian, then what was the Mahatma one may ask. Yes, the cases are under trial; but to refer to such a character as a Gandhian, as a Bihar minister did, was atrocious. The analogy exposed the depths to which caste politics in Bihar has sunk. Fearing the erosion of his support base, Nitish Kumar has stopped short of taking action against the minister who belongs to the BJP. The party’s  president must act and get the minister dismissed .

Claims of an improvement in law and order,  perceived development and good governance are sheer media hype. This has been exposed by none other than the chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Markandey Katju. He recently told a seminar in Patna that he had received reports that there was no freedom of the Press in Bihar. When the Principal of Patna College protested, saying it ‘was not true’, students and others in the gathering strongly protested against the Principal. If there is truth in what the Press Council Chairman said, then the conclusion must be that democracy is not safe in Bihar. And without healthy democratic conditions, Bihar may soon be returning to its bad days again.

With the passage of time, the cracks have started showing. An important national daily recently carried a series of reports ~ even covering the home district of Nitish Kumar ~ of large-scale corruption  in land deals meant for ‘Mahadalits’ (worse off among the Dalits), another support base that the Chief Minister has built up. In the Assembly elections held in October 2005 and 2010, the people of Bihar voted overwhelmingly for Nitish Kumar to bring about a complete change. What they seem to be getting in return is quite the opposite. (The Statesman/ANN)

The writer is a former Joint Director, CBI,  and Director-General, Bureau of Police Research and Development

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