In the badlands of Bihar, caste does not just decide politics; it also drives the gang wars, as militias of rival castes battle it out for turf. The first major 'bhoomi senas' surfaced in the late '70s as an upper-caste landlord response to the growing strength of Left extremist groups, a period that coincided with the Janata Party government headed by Karpoori Thakur, the first backward CM of the state. But they flourished—virulently—through the '90s, and continue to do so. An unbroken run of OBC CMs since 1990—first, the RJD's Laloo Prasad Yadav followed by wife Rabri, and then the JD(U)'s Nitish Kumar—has ensured that the upper castes, the traditional rulers, continue to play second fiddle in Bihar. Thus, the quest for control is played out in the shadowy realm that joins crime and politics in the state, via the land armies of competing castes.
It is against this bloody backdrop that the brutal lynching and gunning down on December 5, 1994, of G. Krishnaiah, the young district magistrate of Gopalganj, needs to be revisited, now that the perpetrators of that crime have been convicted at the end of a 13-year-long legal battle. The civil court in Patna handed down a landmark verdict last week, sentencing former MP, JD(U) leader and Rajput strongman Anand Mohan Singh and two others to death, and awarding his wife, Lovely Anand, also an ex-MP, and three others, life imprisonment for Krishnaiah's murder.
Krishnaiah's was a terrible end to a difficult but promising life. The son of a Dalit construction labourer in Andhra Pradesh, he had battled tremendous odds to get into the ias in 1985. Driving back that fateful day to Gopalganj after an official meeting in Hajipur, just north of Patna, his official car was waylaid near Khabra in Muzaffarpur district by an angry mob—part of the funeral procession of Bhoomihar gangster and aspiring politician Chhottan Shukla. Krishnaiah was dragged out of the car and beaten to pulp. As he lay battered and bruised on the road, Shukla's younger brother, Bhutkan (now dead), shot him three times at close range. Urging him on were Anand, who was leading the procession, along with Lovely and Chhottan's youngest brother, Munna (a sitting JD(U) MLA who too has been awarded a life sentence).
Bro beat Munna Shukla, whose brother Chhottan’s funeral procession turned lynchmob
But what actually set off this chain of violence? First, Chhottan and five others were killed on December 4, 1994, while returning from a campaign for the '95 assembly polls. The fingers pointed to a minister in the then RJD government, Brij Behari Prasad, an OBC from the Bania community, whose henchmen are believed to have been behind the crime. Prasad himself was shot dead in a retribution killing on June 13, '98, while under treatment in judicial custody at Patna's Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences; one of the accused is Munna. (Prasad had been under arrest for alleged involvement in irregular admissions to technical institutions as state science and technology minister.)
Why did Krishnaiah end up paying for someone else's crime? He was seen as a representative of a pro-backward government, helping to put powerful upper-caste landlords out of business, as he daily battled the mafiosi of north Bihar. A TV interview with Krishnaiah at the time—re-aired recently—has him talking quietly of his determination to end crime and enforce law and order in Gopalganj.
In contrast to Krishnaiah's tragic tale, Anand Mohan's seems a comparatively privileged life. Grandson of freedom fighter Ram Bahadur Singh, Anand was an above-average student and came to politics via Jayaprakash Narayan's Sampoorna Kranti movement. In his native Saharsa, he rapidly acquired a Robin Hood image, but by 1980, his "revolutionary" ardour took on a rather more sinister colour as he floated the Samajwadi Krantikari Sena, one of Bihar's first bhoomi senas to fight the lower castes who were gradually becoming more powerful politically.
Anand was elected to the Bihar assembly in 1990 on a Janata Dal ticket, but the party's espousal of the Mandal cause saw him quitting its fold. Thereafter, Anand formed the Bihar People's Party, on whose ticket wife Lovely won the Vaishali Lok Sabha seat first in a byelection in 1994, and then got re-elected to the 10th Lok Sabha (1991-96). Anand himself was elected to the 11th and 12th Lok Sabhas (1996-99) from Sheohar. The highlight of his stint in Parliament was his reported smuggling of a gun into the House—a charge that was later dropped because of lack of evidence, as were several other charges in another 20-odd cases in Bihar. Still, there are about half-a-dozen criminal cases pending against him.
Meanwhile, as Anand and his colleagues say they will challenge the court's orders in the Patna High Court, all eyes are on the fate of some other well-known cases involving Bihar politicians. If RJD strongman Mohammed Shahabuddin has already been convicted in four cases and received a life sentence in one of them, the trials of JD(U) MP Prabhunath Singh, Janshakti MP Suraj Bhan Singh and RJD MP Pappu Yadav (already in Tihar Jail)—all for separate murders— are in the final stages.
After the Krishnaiah verdict, Bihar's principal home secretary Afzal Amanullah, who had for long demanded a cbi probe into the killing, and has directed all the superintendents of police to monitor at least 10 major cases in each of their districts, said, "This court judgement has restored faith in the judicial system." However, there is only so much the courts can do. In Bihar, such cases are more than a law and order issue, they must speak to the people at the level of social equity and power-sharing.
By Smita Gupta and Indrajit Kumar Singh in Patna