Barmeshwar Singh,leader of the private upper caste army Ranbir Sena which ran a ruthless campaign of terror against alleged Maoist supporters for nearly two decades in Bihar,was shot dead at dawn today.
Unknown killers in a car shot the 63-year-old Bhumihar leader four times in the chest as he emerged from home for a morning walk in Khatira in the Nawada police station area of the district town 70-odd km from Patna.
Singh,known as Mukhiyaji to his supporters,was on trial in six cases,and had been on bail for a year. He had of late begun to mobilise upper caste farmers in Ara,and had been critical of what he said were Chief Minister Nitish Kumars anti-farmer policies.
News of Mukhiyas death triggered a quick and violent reaction from his supporters who torched furniture at Ara circuit house,damaged a part of the block development office,and set two milk tankers on fire. Roadblocks were set up in Bihta,Paliganj,Jehanabad and some other areas dominated by Bhumihars. Hundreds of policemen were deployed in Ara,and a red alert was sounded across central Bihar.
Mukhiya founded the now defunct Ranbir Sena to fight against the Maoist Communist Centre,which is now CPI (Maoist),and protect the interests of upper caste landlords. In the course of a bloody battle of dominance and attrition,the Ranbir Sena and MCC carried out over 30 caste massacres until early 2000.
Hours after the 4 am murder,police and intelligence agencies were working on three preliminary theories of the crime.
It was suspected that the CPI (ML) had hit Mukhiya in retaliation after Patna High Court in April acquitted all the accused in the July 1996 Bathanitola massacre in which 22 Dalits and Muslims were killed. A second theory was of political rivalry,with suspicion that Singh who fought the last Lok Sabha election and was likely to contest again was targeted by local leaders. There was also talk of a group from within his own caste eliminating him because of his renewed acceptance among upper caste farmers.
Over 5,000 people raised slogans at Singhs home,blaming the murder on lack of security. Senior police officers stayed away from the spot for at least six hours for fear of mob rage. The crowd asked Ara SP M R Naik to leave,and it was finally DGP Abhayanand who visited Mukhiyas family. On his way out,the DGP was pushed by someone in the crowd.
Abhayanand said,It is an unfortunate incident. We are setting up a special team to investigate the matter from all possible angles. He did not respond to the demand for a probe by the CBI.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said,I appeal to the people to maintain peace and exercise restraint. The incident will be thoroughly investigated,and the guilty will not be spared.
The body was taken for a post mortem examination seven hours after the murder. Police reinforcements,sent from Patna and other districts,flooded Ara. A curfew-like situation prevailed in the town,though no curfew was ordered.
So what if one Barmeshwar Mukhiya has gone,there are thousands to follow him. Our guns have been idle for some time,but we have not forgotten how to use them, said an agitated neighbour of the slain leader.
Mukhiyas 21-year-old grandson Kundan Kumar Singh said,Only my grandmother,aunt and my 17-year-old cousin were at home this morning. I was at our ancestral village Khopira. Kundan made no allegations,but said there is surely a big political conspiracy behind the incident.
Harikant Singh,a resident of Ara,said the state government had no business to appeal against the high courts acquittal of the Bathanitola accused. Any such move will embolden the Dalits and provoke us, Singh said.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad said,Barmeshwar Mukhiya was a known face,for reasons good or bad. One could see public anger as they torched the circuit house and the BDO office. The murder must be investigated thoroughly.
LJP chief Ramvilas Paswan said the murder had given a lie to Nitish Kumars claim that law and order had improved.
CPI (ML) leader Dipankar Bhattacharya said,Everyone knows what reasons Mukhiya was known for. Such a person has no place in history. I had requested the state government to deny him bail as we had feared law and order problems after his release.