August 02, 2020
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From The Barrel Of A Gun

Siwan MP Shahabuddin's gun law makes the local cops desperate and daring enough to defy it

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From The Barrel Of  A Gun
From The Barrel Of A Gun
"I'll kill him even if I've to chase him to Rajasthan. No one can save him now."
Siwan MP Mohammed Shahabuddin's tirade against SP Bacchu Singh Meena who led the police raid on his house

Bihar is a classic microcosm of what the heartland is all about—the natural and easy cohabitation of politics and crime. And if that microcosm ever needed a nanoworld, the obvious choice would be Siwan. The district has the distinction of one murder every two days and nowhere in the state does the cult of katta (country-made pistols) symbolise power and ensures political supremacy more than here.

Siwan's MP Mohammed Shahabuddin rules the district with an iron hand. Accused in more than 30 cases, the MP's word is the law here and anyone who dares to defy him is met with threats and even death.

The trigger-happy Shahabuddin has flourished for the past 10 years without any interference. But this unspoken rule encountered an exception last week when the 'terror of Siwan' was challenged in his own den by the police, resulting in a six-hour-long gun battle which left 14, including two policemen, dead. An AK-47 rifle, two grenades, two 9 mm pistols and ammunition were recovered from Shahabuddin's house.

Though the deaths hardly shocked Siwan, what surprised everyone was that, for the first time, Shahabuddin's authority had been challenged, and by none other than the district police who had been the victims of his terror—even today it's difficult to find a single policeman willing to talk about him openly. Says a cop at the district police headquarters: "Since they know that Shahabuddin has the power to kill them anytime, no one wants to speak out."

He says the people and police of Siwan still remember how during the 1996 parliamentary elections Shahabuddin and his henchmen had chased the then SP, S.K. Singhal, over half-a-kilometre and fired at him in a bid to kill him. Shahabuddin got away scot-free while the SP was transferred. That apart, during the last parliamentary polls the then district magistrate of Siwan, Rashid Ahmad Khan, went on record to say that "there is no contest in Siwan against Shahabuddin". In January this year, Siwan's dsp Ashwini Kumar was allegedly assaulted by Shahabuddin's supporters in full public view. Says a sub-inspector: "Jab bade administrative adhikariyon ke saath yeh baat hai to chhote policemen ki kya aukat (If senior officers are treated in this manner, you can well imagine the position of junior policemen)."

Therefore, this time trouble began, predictably enough, when the notorious MP and his men thrashed the subdivisional police officer (sdpo), Siwan, Sanjeev Kumar, when he questioned the authority of the MP and his men present at a matriculation examination centre. It is alleged that the MP had come to provide assistance to one of his "boys" taking the exam. He was heard saying: "I'm here to to check if any unfair practice is going on." However, the assault on the sdpo prompted the demoralised district police to try and teach the MP a lesson.

It was the fallout of continued incidents of misdemeanour by the MP against the police officers. "A sense of anger and desperation was prevailing among the police officials of Siwan for a while and this incident was the last straw," said SP Bacchu Singh Meena, who was transferred along with the DM and the dig the day after the encounter.

Immediately after Kumar was assaulted, the cops got together and requested the DM, the dig and the SP to lead them in their operation. The DM and the dig were reluctant and even asked the policemen to go back to their "duties". That sparked off violent reactions, forcing the concerned authorities to give them the go-ahead. The SP led the operation and surrounded the MP's house in his Pratappur village, some 20 km from Siwan town. Later, reinforcements were called in from UP and the exchange of fire went on for well over six hours, killing altogether 14 people. Though the MP escaped, he reappeared from nowhere a few hours later and declared: "Ever since my childhood, I haven't considered myself a criminal unless I felt guilty."

The immediate fallout was the postponement of the matriculation examinations for three days. Siwan came to a standstill and the army and paramilitary forces conducted a flag march to bring the situation under control. Then, of course, began the political exercise to assuage Shahabuddin. Both the ruling party as well as the Opposition started vying with each other to woo the MP who commands considerable hold over his community's mlas and MPs.

Just a month ago, rjd president Laloo Prasad Yadav—Shahabuddin has been his blue-eyed boy for the past 10 years—had dubbed him, along with two other minority leaders, Mohammed Taslimuddin and Anwarul Haque, an MP, as "isi agents" operating in Bihar. Laloo's sudden disenchantment was the result of the MP recently switching his loyalty to the dissident camp led by Ranjan Prasad Yadav. But Laloo swiftly changed his stand and defended the MP. "Shahabuddin is an honourable member of Parliament and we're proud of this rjd MP. Strong action would be taken against the guilty police officials. Had it not been my telephone call to the mufassil police station of Siwan, the police would have killed more persons."

When asked about the beating up of the police officer, Laloo explains: "If Shahabuddin had beaten up the dsp, the police should have followed the norm by informing the headquarters. Legal methods should have been adopted." The rjd supremo had even sent a ministerial team led by his trusted friend and excise minister Shivanand Tiwari next day to Pratappur to allay Shahabuddin. But the team had to face the wrath of the villagers who were shouting slogans against the government and Laloo. The intimidated team announced ex-gratia payment of Rs 1 lakh for the families of those killed.

But strangely enough, this time Laloo isn't alone in this political courtship game. The nda, aware that Shahabuddin isn't too kindly disposed towards Laloo after the latter's isi remarks, too is busy pursuing him. "There should be a case, lodged under sections 307 of the ipc, against SP B.S. Meena and other policemen," said Shankar Prasad Tekriwal, who had recently resigned from the Rabri Government. He called the Siwan incident "a high-level conspiracy to kill Shahabuddin because he was inclined towards Ranjan Prasad Yadav". Even the state bjp leaders, who always make it a point to visit carnage sites and have always been vociferous in demanding the arrest of Shahabuddin, have maintained a studied silence keeping Shahabuddin's presence in the dissident camp in mind. Says a senior bjp leader: "The party wouldn't like to do anything that brings Shahabuddin, who commands the loyalty of over at least six Muslim mlas of the ruling party, back to Laloo's fold. "

Irrespective of who succeeds in wooing Shahabuddin, an uncomfortable fact that emerges is that given the fluid political situation in the state, neither the ruling rjd nor the Opposition can afford to lose Shahabuddin.Strangely enough, he is a much wanted man by politicians even though intelligence agencies talk of his close links with Dawood Ibrahim and the isi. But then, in Bihar's badlands, this is probably a virtue.
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