JAGARNATH Mahto, 47, has always walked the line. His most talked about contribution as the two-time Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) MLA from Dumri has been the janata durbars he presides over, handing out punishment to alleged molesters and alcoholic husbands, with law-enforcing agencies looking the other way.
Then, on March 20, someone crossed the line. A durbar was held outside Jagarnath’s ancestral house in Chandrapura block’s Alargo village to decide the fate of Santosh Pandey, 25, who had been kept without food and water for the third day.
His crime: eloping with a girl from Simratoli in the village. His captors, most of them the girl’s relatives and residents of Simratoli — where Jagarnath, belonging to the dominant caste Kurmi, also stays — beat Santosh with sticks. At some point, he was bundled into a car and taken to DVC Hospital in Chandrapura. Suraj Puri, one of his alleged attackers, admitted Santosh at around 10 am and disappeared immediately. Santosh died hours later.
The police, that had reached the hospital shortly after Santosh was admitted failed, to record his dying declaration.
Nine people, including Jagarnath and his brother Baidyanath, have been named in the FIR. All, except the brothers, are relatives of the girl.
She recently told reporters that she was drugged by Santosh. Baidyanath was arrested. The MLA and another individual are the only accused at large now.
This is not the first time Jagarnath has been accused of murder. In August 1985, he was accused of murdering one Dilu Mahto. An arrest warrant was issued against him in 2003 but he was never placed under arrest. In 2005, he was elected to the Assembly for the first time.
Only when the District Judge of Bokaro pursued the matter in 2008 did Jagarnath surrender. He has since appealed against the charge before the Jharkhand High Court. The petition is pending.
Dressed almost always in white full-sleeve shirts, Jagarnath is one of Jharkhand’s most colourful legislators, in a state no stranger to them. In August 2011, he had threatened to immolate himself on the Assembly premises unless his demands regarding regularisation of para teachers were accepted.
In September the same year, he organised a programme in Bokaro in the memory of JMM founder Binod Behari Mahato where he reportedly danced with scantily clad performers. In April 2013, at Chirudih village in Nawadih block, he bought all the balloons from a vendor during the Bhokta festival, climbed up a bamboo pole, tied himself to it and threw down balloons, sweets — and, according to some, money — to people.
In October that year, in the same block, he rode piggyback on a villager to cross a stream to save his all-whites. And in November, as the chief guest at Sohrai festival in Chirudih, he decided to perform a ritual where one dances before a bull tied to a tree.
While the dancing continued…