The murder of young Aditya Sachdeva in Gaya on Saturday, allegedly by the son of JD(U) leader and legislator Manorama Devi, has touched off a storm for the six month-old Mahagathbandhan government in Bihar. The BJP-led opposition has been quick to seize the incident, to paint spectres of a return of “Jungle Raj”. Nitish Kumar’s alliance with Lalu Prasad, this story goes, was always going to lead to an inexorable slide in law and order. The chief minister himself has cautioned against the rush to draw conclusions on the fairness of the investigations. “There can be many reasons for an incident… If anyone commits a crime they cannot escape the law”, Nitish has said. He has also pointed out that the crime figures in Delhi, for instance, are grimmer than those in Bihar.
There is a fraught context to the political point-scoring in the aftermath of the murder in Gaya. The restoration of the rule of law and the re-establishment of the writ of the state was the Nitish-led JD(U)-BJP government’s most striking achievement when it first came to power in Bihar. In Lalu raj, especially in its later years, the state was seen to abdicate and recede in many pockets, vacating space for the local strongman or bahubali who ruled by a mix of fear and favour. The return of Nitish as chief minister in 2010 was, in large part, due to a surge of popular support for a government that had worked towards reinstating trust in the capacity and willingness of the state to ensure the safety and security of its citizens. After Nitish broke away from the BJP, and especially since he tied up with Lalu’s RJD to take on the BJP, however, the story changed again. During the campaign for the assembly elections, its political opponents sought to revive popular fears and anxieties, especially noticeable among upper caste groups in the state, about the lawlessness of the Lalu years. Ever since the Nitish-Lalu government took charge, therefore, it has been especially watched for its grip on law and order in Bihar.
It is in this context that the JD(U)-RJD government must address the latest high-profile instance of crime in the state. It responded clearly and firmly against another politically connected accused, RJD MLA Raj Ballabh Yadav, in a rape case. Now, it must again ensure that justice is done — and that it is seen to be done. It must know that any perceptions of bad faith or delay on part of the government would resonate widely.
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