IT may well have all started when 13-year-old Manoj Kumar wanted to cast his vote on May 7, 1996, for the Patna parliamentary seat. An alert contingent of the Central Industrial Security Force(CISF) was on poll duty that day. The boy was stopped, and some force in doing it could not be ruled out. Nothing unusual about it, except the boy in question was Laloo Prasad Yadav's favoured nephew.
But this incident could only be a catalyst in the face of what followed: charges against CISF Deputy Inspector General of Police Kishore Kunal; a blow-by-blow account of poll mal-practices made by Kunal against the chief minister and his partymen; and the most unusual dirt-digging of the antecedents of Union Minister of State for Home Mohammed Taslimuddin, who in his position is expected to stop all that he has been charged with.
The hornet's nest was stirred by a detailed report made in March 1995 by Kunal, the nodal officer of the CISF in Bihar, on the election malpractices in the state, as being practiced by willing bureaucrats and supine district police chiefs. A typical nugget from the report submitted to the IG of the CRPF, who was also coordinating paramilitary movement in the state elections: "On 15.3.95 one company of the CISF reached Godda in the morning after travelling a long distance. But the superintendent of police (Godda) refused to accept the force and gave a written order to move the company to Sahebganj district. But what was the sense in diverting the force to another distant district on the day of the poll?"
Kunal's report contained a litany of such occurrences (which he termed only as a sampler) on various days of polling in the state. There were instances like in Dham-daha (Purnea) where Dilip Yadav, the Janata Dal candidate, was caught by paramilitary forces with unlicensed arms and handed over to the local SP. The SP let Yadav go on the grounds that "the unlicensed revolver was not recovered from the possession of the candidate but his car".
Kunal's conclusions: "Many unscrupulous bureaucrats are in league with their favourite candidates.... I have been raising my apprehension that unless all polling stations are manned by static armed forces, elections in Bihar would not be fair because of the partisan attitude of many unscrupulous bureaucrats."
According to informed sources in the state home department at Patna, all hell broke loose after the contents of the reports became public. Laloo was reportedly livid and Bihar Home Secretary D.P. Maheshwari informally conveyed the state government's stand to the Union Home Ministry. The message was clear: Kunal would have to leave the state.
But sources say what seems to have triggered Laloo's ire was not only Kunal's passion for fair polling. He is also the president of the cash-rich Hanuman Temple Trust, which runs the highly influential Hanuman temple right opposite the Patna railway station. The insinuation was that Kunal, with his obsession for the temple, was close to the saffron brigade. In 1995, when an anti-encroachment drive was launched in Patna at the behest of the state government and on directives of the Patna High Court, the Patna Development Authority had toyed with the idea of dismantling the temple structure, which is a case of blatant encroachment on public land. Given the sensitivity of the issue, however, the matter was given a go-by, while other shops around it were razed.
The ire of the state government stemmed from another fact. Kunal has served in the state since 1978, except for a brief period when he was officer on special duty (OSD) in the Home Ministry and the specially created Ayodhya cell, handling negotiations between Hindu saints and the Babri Masjid Action Committee. But he actually belongs to the Gujarat cadre of the Indian Police Service (IPS), where he has scarcely served.
It is here that Taslimuddin comes into the picture. According to Kunal's charge, the first act of Taslimuddin as Union minister came on June 3 when he initiated the file for the transfer of Kunal back to the Gujarat cadre. On June 4, the Director (Police) in the Union Home Ministry, N.K. Sinha, put up a note saying that Taslimuddin had directed Kunal's return to Gujarat on two counts: that he spent too much time at the Hanuman temple at Patna and that he played a partisan role in Bihar's parliamentary and assembly elections. On the question of Kunal's role in the temple affairs, Sinha held that a member of all-India services could be associated with a private trust only with the Government's permission.
Kunal alleges that after several machinations within the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), its Secretary K. Padmanabhiah put the final seal: "Kishore Kunal is an outstanding officer. However, he is in Bihar since 1978 except for a brief period when he was OSD in the MHA. An officer should not be at one place for long. Therefore, Kunal should be transferred to Bombay."
What should have been a fairly routine transfer is now threatening to snowball into a demand that Taslimuddin be dropped from the United Front Government, given his allegedly murky background and his role in Kunal's transfer. The biggest embarrassment for the new minister would, however, be the report of the special committee appointed by the Bihar assembly on February 27, 1986.
According to the report, which was compiled by five members who took 70 eyewitness accounts, several criminal acts were identified against Taslimuddin. Among them: an alleged rape case in 1983; bookings under Section 148 of the Indian Penal Code (rioting armed with deadly weapons); Section 186 (obstructing public servant at work); Section 307 (attempt to murder); Section 323 (voluntary attack causing hurt); Section 342 (wrongful confinement); Section 341 (wrongful restraint); Section 353 (assault or use of criminal force to obstruct public servant); Section 386 (extortion by putting the fear of death in a person); Section 419 (cheating by impersonation); Section 420 (cheating); Section 471 (using a forged document); Section 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of peace); Section 506 (criminal intimidation) and other cases.
But Taslimuddin's biggest benefactor in the battle so far remains Laloo, who insists that the minister is being wrongly accused by "communal and BJP elements". At a joint press conference with the Union minister this fortnight, he quoted from the conclusions of the assembly committee report, pointing out that the charges against the minister were merely just that. "Have any of these been proved?" he wanted to know. He declared that all charges were cooked up by the Araria administration, which had registered all cases "within a period of seven days in February 1986".
When asked about Kunal's charge that Taslimuddin was behind the 'arbitrary' transfers, Laloo lost his shirt. "Ya to aap police ka kaam kijiye ya mandir mein ghanti baj-aiye." (You either do police work or ring the temple bells.) He added that Kunal's ears should be tweaked and that he should be put behind bars. The statement drew some muted response from the local IPS Association, but the matter is clearly not going to end there.
Kunal has moved the Central Administrative Tribunal against what he describes as a 'malafide' order and managed to obtain a stay. He also volunteered to go in for premature retirement instead of serving in a situation "where a person with alleged criminal antecedents of rape, kidnapping and dacoity becomes the minister of state for home and where a man, who allowed the plundering of the treasuries of Bihar to the tune of hundreds of crores and was engaged in systematic rigging of elections, dictates terms to the Union Government".
Clearly the battlelines are drawn, amidst reports that Taslimuddin may be dropped or his portfolio changed. A report submitted by the Intelligence Bureau to Prime Minister Deve Gowda has reportedly indicated that there are four criminal charges against Taslimuddin in Araria. In the meantime, Kunal who set the ball rolling is still smarting under the insult of being transferred on a fax message. But as observers point out, putting civil servants to do work that basically requires political input does have its fallout.