Anand Mohan, a former Member of Parliament from Bihar, who is serving a life sentence in a three-decade-old case of an IAS officer’s murder, is all set to walk out of jail along with 26 others.
In a notification issued late on Monday, Bihar's state law department ordered the release of 27 people, including Mohan, all of whom have spent 14 years or more in jail.
The trial court awarded Mohan capital punishment for the murder of G Krishnaiah, the then District Magistrate of Gopalganj. A higher court, however, commuted it to life imprisonment.
Mohan, who has been out on parole, was celebrating the engagement of his son Chetan Anand, an RJD MLA in the state, when he received the news of his impending release.
Talking to reporters, Mohan expressed his gratitude towards Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who along with his deputy Tejashwi Yadav, was among the attendees at the gala function organised on the outskirts of Patna.
The order for Mohan’s release, who is likely to surrender at the Saharsa jail before being set free, follows the cabinet nod for amending the prison rules under which, previously, those involved in serious cases like the killing of a government servant could not be released even after the elapse of 14 years.
A Robinhood-like figure in his heydays who liked to pose for photographers holding a gun in his hand and surrounded by henchmen armed to the teeth, Mohan is said to be immensely popular among Rajputs, an influential upper caste.
The list of the 27 prisoners who are to be freed also includes Awadhesh Mandal, a former MLA associated with the Chief Minister’s JD(U). Mandal’s wife Bima Bharti is a sitting JD(U) MLA and a former minister. He is currently lodged at Bhagalpur jail.
At least two of the prisoners named in the list, Raj Ballabh Yadav (Buxar) and Chandeshwari Yadav (Bhagalpur) have attained more than 80 years of age.
The list also includes people like Ram Pradesh Singh (Gaya), who was convicted way back in 1985.
The spotlight, however, has been on Mohan, aged 75 years, who was convicted in 2007, more than a decade after Krishnaiah was lynched by a mob at Muzaffarpur in 1994.
What was the case all about?
An IAS officer of 1985 batch, Krishnaiah, who hailed from Telangana and was a Dalit, was beaten to death while his car tried to overtake a funeral procession of which Mohan was a part.
Mohan, who was then an MLA from Mahishi in Saharsa district, had come to Muzaffarpur to mourn the killing of Chhotan Shukla, a dreaded gangster belonging to the Bhumihar community.
Mohan appeared to share an affinity with the slain fellow upper caste “Bahubali” whose murder was blamed on Brij Bihari Prasad, an OBC strongman who later went on to become a minister in the Rabri Devi government.
How did the political parties respond?
The impending release of Mohan seems to have left the BJP in disarray, given its support base of the upper castes and its efforts to win the support of Dalits.
BJP leaders like former Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi and IT cell chief Amit Malaviya have unequivocally condemned the order of Mohan’s release, linking it to the RJD, the party to which the jailed politician’s son belongs, being in power.
However, Union minister Giriraj Singh, the MP from Begusarai and arguably one of the most popular upper caste leaders in the current crop, was circumspect.
“Anand Mohan is being made a scapegoat. The Bihar government has ordered the release of a large number of criminals. Poor Anand Mohan is being defamed in the process”, Singh told reporters when they sought his reaction.
Interestingly, a large number of those whose release has been ordered happen to be Yadavs or Muslims, largely seen as supporters of the RJD.
JD(U) national president Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan came out with an angry social media post accusing the BJP of having “used its B-Team”, referring to BSP supremo Mayawati, to attack the Nitish Kumar government ever since the word went around that Mohan was set to be released.
Lalan, who also slammed Malviya, alleged that the BJP believed in the policy of “getting its opponents framed while saving its own people”.
Meanwhile, the CPI(ML) Liberation, which supports the “Mahagathbandhan” government from outside, raised a protest demanding the release of many of its workers who have been, similarly, behind bars for many years.
In a statement, state CPI(ML)(L) secretary Kunal questioned “selective release of prisoners” pointing out that many of its “comrades” from Arwal district have been languishing in jails since their conviction under TADA in 2003 “in a blatant travesty of justice”.
“Six of the comrades died in prison”, said Kunal, adding “release of prisoners must be fair and transparent” and demanded that its jailed cadre be set free along with “all the oppressed poor people who have been locked up unfairly under the draconian prohibition law”.
(With PTI In[its)