A Hazaribagh court on Tuesday sentenced RJD former MP Prabhunath Singh, his brother Dinanath Singh and their supporter Ritesh Mukhiya to life term for the murder of Janata Dal MLA Ashok Singh 22 years ago. The court had convicted them three days ago. Masrakh MLA Ashok Singh was killed in June 1995 at his official residence in Patna when a bomb was hurled at him. Ashok had earlier worked with Prabhunath and defeated him in an Assembly poll in 1995 after falling out with him. The murder case was transferred to Hazaribagh on the plea of the victim’s wife Chandani Singh.
Chandani said she was not satisfied with the verdict. “I have been fighting a prolonged legal battle for justice. I had expected the death sentence for Prabhunath because of the brutality of the crime. My husband’s murder was a deep-rooted conspiracy with Prabhunath going to tell the public after his 1995 election loss that there would be a bypoll. My battle continues,” she said. The conviction is seen a setback to the RJD as Singh is an important leader in Chhapra and Siwan. Singh unsuccessfully contested the 2009 Lok Sabha elections on a JD(U) ticket from Maharajganj and switched to the RJD in 2010 and won the 2013 Lok Sabha bypoll from the seat but lost the seat in the 2014 general election.
A senior RJD leader said: “It has been a tough time for us. Our August rally becomes very important to recover from the recent shocks and invigorate the party. Shahabuddin and Prabhunath are important leaders and would continue to have their influence in their respective areas despite verdicts against them.” Prabhunath was seen in the JD(U) as a Rajput leader who could hold the caste base for Nitish, but the several pending criminal cases against him came in the way of Nitish’s good governance slogan. By the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Prabhunath had almost fallen out with Nitish but remained important for his seat, Maharajganj. But he lost the seat in 2009 and the JD(U) had no problems shedding Prabhunath as unwanted baggage.
Prabhunath’s political high point came when Nitish made him the JD(U) Lok Sabha leader. In the mid-nineties he attracted considerable attention by targeting Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin. This earned him several friends in the NDA.