The blocking of a truck and the alleged beating of at least one of the three men inside on suspicion of transporting beef in Bihar’s Bhojpur district was a well-planned move by BJP and Bajrang Dal workers who said they wanted to “produce proof” for police to take action against “illegal” meat traders.
Speaking to The Indian Express in Shahpur, Bhuwar Ojha, BJP state executive committee member, said, “We had been telling police for some time about an illegal slaughterhouse in the Ranisagar area of Shahpur but they would not listen to us. Now that the BJP is part of the state government, our morale has been boosted.” Ojha described Ranisagar and Bagahi, the only Muslim-dominated areas in the Shahpur assembly segment, as “the problem areas”. But, he said, the BJP’s top leaders in Bihar have asked him to ensure that “no untoward incident takes place”.
“We are not staging any protests today because we hope for some action from police. We should not be protesting against our own government now,” said Ojha, who had been kept in the loop by those who blocked the truck.
On Thursday, following the incident — the first case of beef vigilantism in the state — protests were held in Shahpur over “police inaction” in tackling illegal meat trade. Later, police arrested four persons allegedly linked to the business, including the owner of an illegal slaughterhouse and those in the truck: Sarfuddin Khan and Ajmulllah Khan from Bikramganj and Gulam Khan of Hariharganj in Rohtas district.
Meat samples from the truck were also sent for laboratory tests. Cow and buffalo slaughter is banned in the state, according to The Bihar Preservation and Improvement of Animals Act, 1955. On Friday, local residents and police sources told The Indian Express that among those who stopped the truck were local BJP leaders Chandan Pandey, Ankit Pandey, Rakesh Tiwary and Pankaj Tiwari, and Bajrang Dal activists Nishu Rao, Krishna Kant Singh and Dhoni.
Sources said the first alert about the truck was posted on a WhatsApp group ‘Bhojpur news’, run by Chandan Pandey, who is the BJP’s Shahpur town general secretary, and has the local police station in-charge Bipin Kumar as a member. Late Wednesday night, Pandey posted that the truck bound for West Bengal was about to cross the town from Ranisagar, 5 km away. By 2 am, a group of 15 BJP and Bajrang Dal workers reached the petrol pump in town to intercept the truck, said sources.
“At around 5.15 am on Thursday, as the truck neared the pump, the group tried to stop it. The driver tried to speed away but had to stop because of a tractor coming from the opposite direction,” said police sources. On Friday, Kumar was suspended for “dereliction of duty”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Chandan Pandey denied that the group beat the three men in the truck and showed a video on his smartphone purportedly of the driver admitting that he was transporting “10-12 tonnes of beef”.
“It is an allegation that we beat them. The three arrested persons also did not make any complaint to the police. Our job was to catch them red-handed and produce proof to police of what we had been saying all along,” he said.
According to Pandey, his BJP associate Bashistha Prasad, the local nagar panchayat head, informed the Shahpur police station in-charge and Jagdishpur Sub Divisional Police Officer Daya Shanker of the incident. “Police arrived at 6 pm and seized the truck and arrested the truck driver and two others,” he said.
Pandey said that he had kept BJP leader Bhuwar Jha “posted about every little detail of the trap”. Jha, who took part in Thursday’s protest, is the husband of former Shahpur BJP MLA Munni Devi and brother of slain BJP vice president Visheshwar Ojha.
Jagdishpur SDPO Daya Shanker said, “Since the people who stopped the truck identified themselves as local residents, we did not ask for their political affiliation. Our job was to arrest the three and seize the truck. We also conducted raids and named four persons in the case for running an illegal slaughterhouse.”
At Ranisagar, meanwhile, a sense of wary calm prevailed even as shops remained open on Friday with minimal police deployment. Residents of the village, with a population of around 10,000, 70 per cent of whom are Muslim, said the “entire village should not be defamed” because of the actions of a few.
They also wanted police to ensure adequate deployment ahead of August 14, the last Monday of the holy month of Sawan to avoid any communal tension. Khursheed Khan, a paan-shop owner, said, “Although Ranisagar is Muslim-dominated, we have a sizeable population of Dalits and EBCs. You can see that we have our shops side-by-side. Some leaders from either side are looking for reasons to make us fight. We want them to stay away. As for the raid at the illegal slaughterhouse, we have nothing against that. What is illegal is illegal, but the three boys arrested with meat are not from here and the entire village should not be defamed.”
However, a Hindu resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “Ranisagar has four mosques and one temple. We hold the ashtjaam (24-hour religious chanting) once in a year but we did not organise it for three years until 2015 out of fear. It resumed in 2016 but police took an undertaking from us that if communal tension arises, we alone could be held responsible.”
Kumar Pankaj, Jagdishpur Sub Divisional Magistrate, said, “We have identified some pockets and deployed police accordingly. We will remain watchful. The template of any communal tension has been more or less the same. But the situation here is completely under control.”
The Shahpur assembly segment is being represented by RJD leader Rahul Tewary, the son of former JD(U) MP Shivanand Tewary. From 2005 till 2015, it was represented by BJP leader Munni Devi.
BJP leader Bhuwar Ojha accused the Tewarys of indulging in “Muslim appeasement”. Speaking to The Indian Express, Shivanand Tewary said, “Ranisagar and Bagahi are the only Muslim pockets in this assembly constituency, which has less than 10 per cent Muslim voters. The constituency is dominated by Brahmins followed by Yadavs, Rajputs and Bhumihars. Now that the BJP is part of the government, it sees an opening for its politics in Shahpur.”