Under fire over the release of RJD strongman Mohd Shahabuddin from jail, the Bihar government has decided to approach the Supreme Court to cancel his bail granted by the Patna High Court. The decision was, however, too late as the damage was already been done as there were allegations that the release of Shahabuddin was a well-planned strategy by the ruling JD(U)-RJD government.
Known as Saheb in Siwan, Shahabuddin was granted bail by the Patna High Court on September 7 in the murder case of two brothers. The court had on February 3 directed the state government to conclude trial of the case preferably within nine months. But the government failed to do so, paving way for the bail of Shahabuddin. The opposition alleged that the government also did not engage any top lawyers to oppose Shahabuddin’s case as it had done in other major cases in the past.
Shahabuddin walked out of Bhalagpur jail on September 10 to a heroic welcome sending fear among masses of a possible return of ‘jungle raj’, the term associated with the 15-year rule of Lalu-Rabri rule in the state. The images of grand welcome to the muscleman leader, his convoy crossing a toll uninterrupted and a wanted shooter standing beside him only suggested the impending threat to law and order in the state.
An unrepentant Shahabuddin made it clear that he gives a damn about ruling government by calling Nitish Kumar a chief minister of circumstances. He asserted that Nitish may be the head of the state but he only consider Lalu Yadav as his leader. Shahabuddin’s remark found support from another RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh who said he too wanted to see Lalu Yadav as the chief minister of Bihar, exposing the rift within the RJD and the JDU.
Though Nitish downplayed the issue by referring to the people’s mandate calling Shahabuddin’s remark unimportant, the man with prime ministerial ambitions appeared vulnerable and weak. Nitish had put Shahabuddin behind bars in 2005 as a first step towards the restoration of law that was heavily compromised during the Lalu-Rabri rule. But he is out today challenging Nitish stature with his bike-riding goons showing thumb down to the administration and the chief minister watching as a mute spectator.
Going soft on Shahabuddin is among the many compromises Nitish has done to keep the Mahagthbandhan with the RJD intact. The first of course was giving deputy chief minister post to Lalu’s son Tejaswi Yadav who now, under the guidance of his father has emerged as the face of the RJD. But Shahabuddin saga has made a serious dent in the RJD-JDU partnership. If reports are to be believed, all is not well also between Lalu and Nitish. While Lalu has agreed to campaign for Mulayam Singh in Uttar Pradesh during the elections next year, Nitish Kumar will pitch JDU separately in the neighbouring state. The third coalition partner of the grand alliance Congress also stands with Nitish Kumar as it had told RJD that if they are not comfortable in the coalition they could walk out.
But it’s too early to say given the latest decision by the Bihar government to approach the apex court for cancellation of Shahabuddin’s bail.