Shaibal Gupta in ‘The unimportance of Shahabuddin,’ (IE, September 21) has argued that irrespective of whether or not Shahabuddin stays behind bars, he (like the Ranveer Sena) has been rendered irrelevant by the energetic, entrepreneurial economic forces and rule of law ushered in by Nitish Kumar. Gupta argues, “In the absence of a capitalist culture,” wealth accumulated by criminals “does not get converted into productive or industrial capital.” It is true that in Nitish Kumar’s Bihar, musclemen of yesteryears are able to channel their criminally-acquired wealth into “productive or industrial capital” — into lucrative fields like the education mafia, for instance.
Gupta expresses surprise that Shahabuddin got political space in the RJD led by Lalu Prasad, a “social justice” icon. The fact is, Lalu Prasad allowed the Ranveer Sena to rampage unchecked for the same reason he co-opted Shahabuddin — they were both used by him against the assertion of the poorest and most oppressed through the CPI(ML), underlining the hollowness of his rhetoric of “social justice.”
WATCH VIDEO: 5 Things About Shahabuddin’s Criminal Record
Gupta gives Nitish Kumar credit for a “spree of convictions” of Ranveer Sainiks and Shahabuddin, but none for the spree of acquittals of Ranveer Sena convicts and bail for Shahabuddin. Contrary to Gupta’s claims, the Ranveer Sena was not politically marginalised by economic forces unleashed and rule of law restored by Nitish Kumar. Brahmeshwar Mukhiya was jailed in 2002 in what was widely believed to be a surrender, a move by the RJD government to protect him when the Ranveer Sena’s wings had been clipped by the CPI(ML). In 2010, when a trial court convicted several Ranveer Sainiks for the Bathani Tola massacre, the Bihar police and government failed even to charge Brahmeshwar.
The Hindu (‘Prime accused absconding, 23 convicted in Bathani Tola massacre case’, May 6, 2010) reported on how “the government dithers on Brahmeshwar’s case fearing an upper-caste backlash this crucial election year” and on the “cruel certainty” about “an open cover-up”. According to the same report, the Bihar police absurdly claimed not to be aware of the location of the mastermind of Dalit massacres — though the latter was safely ensconced in jail. So much for Gupta’s claims about Nitish’s respect for “rule of law” where “a daroga can vanquish the mightiest criminal.”
Claims of the Ranveer Sena “biting the electoral dust” are also half-truths. Take just one fact — the MLA representing Nitish Kumar’s party from Tarari (where Bathani Tola is) between 2010-2015 was Sunil Pandey, well-known for his Ranveer Sena connections. In the 2015 Assembly polls, Sunil Pandey’s wife contested from the Lok Janshakti Party, a BJP ally. Meanwhile, the Mahagatbandhan of JDU, RJD and Congress fielded Congress leader Akhilesh Prasad Singh from Tarari — who, at Brahmeshwar’s funeral, described the Butcher of Bihar as “a towering personality, the likes of whom are born once in 100-200 years.” (‘Supporters praise Ranvir Sena founder Barmeshwar Singh’, India Today, June 3, 2015) The point is, be it the JDU, the Mahagathbandhan or the NDA, they all continue to represent and appease the Ranveer base in Bhojpur. If the Ranveer candidate “bit the dust,” it was thanks to the CPI(ML) that won the Tarari seat in 2015.
Gupta fails to recall that after Brahmeshwar’s killing, Nitish ‘Rule of Law’ Kumar, by his own admission, instructed his police not to act against Ranveer Sena men who rioted with impunity and attacked Dalit hostels, Ambedkar statues and public property on the pretext of a “funeral procession” between Ara and Patna. (‘Nitish Kumar defends DGP’s stand on videography of Ranvir Sena rioting’, PTI, September 10, 2012) How is Nitish Kumar’s justification for allowing that funeral procession and for police inaction against riotous mobs any different from Narendra Modi’s justification for the fateful VHP funeral procession and police inaction against the mobs of Gujarat, 2002? One of the first decisions by Nitish Kumar in his first term was to disband the Amir Das Commission — about to submit its report revealing links between Ranveer Sena and its political masters.
The changes in the political economy claimed by Shaibal Gupta are shallow and cosmetic — for the poor, the oppressed, the Dalits of Bihar, what little has changed is due to their own struggles, and they’re having to defend those gains with the weight of the Mahagathbandhan government against them.
Apologists for Modi argue Gujarat has “developed” and “moved on”, and so, the quest for justice for the 2002 communal riots must be laid to rest. Gupta’s argument about Bihar sounds the same disturbing note. Justice can never be irrelevant to the quest for a just society or “development”.