The Siwan test

The Siwan test

Nitish-led Mahagathbandhan government must know that the onus of dispelling disbelief is on it.

nitish kumar, bihar government
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. (Express Photo by Prashant Ravi)

The murder of journalist Rajdeo Ranjan in Siwan last week on Friday night took place days after the murder in Gaya of young Aditya Sachdeva, allegedly by the son of the now absconding JD(U) MLC Manorama Devi. These are two separate incidents of crime, joined together, for now, only in the BJP-led opposition’s clamour pronouncing the return of “jungle raj” in Nitish Kumar-ruled Bihar. It may also be true that BJP-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh have a worse record on the incidence of crime than Bihar. Yet, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar would do well not to point fingers back at the BJP in his own defence. He has already asked the Centre for a CBI investigation into the Siwan case, but in this moment, the Mahagathbandhan government that he leads needs to do all it can to send out the message to the people that the guilty will not be spared — whosoever they may be. If the Gaya case involves the son of a politician of the ruling party, now suspended by it, the murder in Siwan has immediately touched off questions about whether or not the Mahagathbandhan government would summon the necessary political will to pursue the probe if it pointed too close to home.

Law and order has been — and among the people is still widely seen to be — the Nitish Kumar government’s biggest achievement in the state. And nowhere has this been more starkly framed, and put more to the test, than in Siwan. Here, the abdication of the state during the Lalu years from its basic responsibility to ensure the security and safety of its citizens, was most visible. In Siwan, the bahubali phenomenon, the taking over by the strongman of the spaces vacated by the state, who then ruled through fear and favour, had a recognisable name. The writ of Mohammad Shahabuddin, also seen to be the “guardian” of the Muslim votebank, ran above that of the law. Though jailed in 2003, it was only after Nitish came to power in 2005, that the influence of the man convicted in eight cases and handed sentences ranging from one year to life imprisonment on charges including murder, began to recede from public view.

In the November 2015 assembly polls, however, that achievement invited suspicions of a rollback. Nitish had joined hands with Lalu Prasad’s RJD, of which Shahabuddin is a prominent member. And by all accounts, Siwan’s “Saheb” had a decisive say in the selection of the Mahagathbandhan’s election candidates. Now, as a journalist known for his fearless political reporting is shot dead in Siwan, the Nitish government must know that the onus of dispelling disbelief is on it. How it conducts itself in Siwan — and in Gaya — will undoubtedly contribute towards shaping perceptions about whether or not the magnificent achievement of Nitish Raj 1 and 2 is seen to endure in Nitish 3.