Bihar: A Tale of 3 Mukhiyas and Campaign for 2014 Elections
Gopal Krishna is an environmental and civil rights activist and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First, it was Tarkeshwar Giri, former Mukhiya of Jhakhra Sheikh panchayat of Marwan block in Muzaffarpur was made to spend 2 months 4 days in jail on false charges. He was Mukhiya during 2001-5. After that his seat was brought under reserved category. The concocted case against him continues in Additional Sessions Judge Court in Muzaffarpur. The next date of hearing is on June 27, 2012. His crime was that he was leading villagers protest under the banner of Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jansangarsh Samiti against the construction of a hazardous white asbestos factory on the village’s agricultural field. White asbestos is banned in 55 countries and although its mining is technically banned in India, ban on its trade, manufacturing and use is under central government’s consideration. Health is a State subject.
If the State government considered the health of its citizens meriting protection, it could have chosen to take a lead in banning asbestos related activities in Bihar as Kerala did in the case of hazardous pesticide Endosulfan. But that was not the case. Following bitter resistance and amidst police firing, the State withdrew its support for this plant, fearing Singur or Nandigram like situation. All the opposition parties especially from the left joined hands at the initiative of Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) under the guidance of Sachidanand Sinha, a legendry Socialist Saint and with the proactive support of Citizens Forum of Muzaffarpur and Patna, this ensured that JDU-BJP government backtracked for the first and only time in its 7 years tenure in deference of villagers demand. The panchayat falls under the assembly constituency of JDU legislator.
Residents of Bhojpur where three such asbestos based plants that causes incurable lung cancer have been set up in Bihiya and Gidha were not as fortunate although Communist Party of India (Marxitst-Leninist) Liberation protested against it but it did not succeed in stopping it. The Bihiya falls under BJP MLA’s constituency. Gidha falls under the constituency of Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) MLA. RJD MLAs raised the matter in the State Assembly but it did not yield any result. The take home message is Tarkeshwar Giri the former Mukhiya succeeded where everyone else failed. He got national support from Indian doctors, Ban Asbestos Movement, National Alliance of Peoples Movement and Peoples Union of Civil Liberties among others and international support from scientists, doctors and asbestos victim groups through letters. Giri won a battle while such several such battles against proposed asbestos plants in Vaishali, Madhubani, Champaran is still being fought in the face of a government which is anti-people, anti-environment and anti-public health.
Second, Mukhiya of Aurangabad’s Sanhathua Panchayat of Haspura Block, Devendra Singh (alias Chhotu Mukhiya) was murdered on March 29, 2012 with the alleged complicity of an official. In October 2011, Arif Khan, Mukhiya of Obra panchayat was killed but police could not find the culprits. When Police did not catch the culprits a joint protest against administration began on May 2, 2012 under the banner of Hatya Virodhi Sangharsh Morcha. A Fact Finding team of PUCL visited the region on May 13, 2012 and ascertained the situation. Their report shows the role of Bihar Police in a very poor light. It refers to merciless public beating of former MLA of Communist Party of India (Marxitst-Leninist), Liberation [CPIML], Raja Ram Singh and a college mate of the Chief Minister from Bihar College of Engineering (renamed as National Institute of Technology). In protest, CPIML was on an indefinite hunger strike in Patna and elsewhere which was withdrawn after the murder of Ranvir Sena supremo. The PUCL report referred to the patronage of ruling party that is enjoyed by the culprits in several cases of murder in Aurangabad. It underlines that Bihar Police uses dehumanizing, abusive and foul language against women protesters while beating them.
Third, Brahmeshwar Singh, former unopposed Mukhiya of Khopira Panchayat in Sandesh block of Bhojpur for 17 years since 1971 became founder of Rashtravadi Kisan Sangharsh Samiti alias Ranvir Sena in September 1994 and Akhil Bhartiya Rashtriya Kisan Sangathan (ABRKS) in May 2012. This Sena was/is a class warrior that emerged to protect the interests of big farmers in reaction of CPIML’s Indian People’s Front supported consolidation small farmers-workers’ struggle for land and fair wages. Sena was responsible for several retaliatory massacres.
Brahmeshwar Singh was underground for 7 years and was in jail for 9 years. He was arrested in 2002 and released in 2011. He fought 2004 Lok Sabha election from jail and garnered 1.60 lakh votes less than the CPIML candidate late Ram Naresh Ram who was a MLA. But both were defeated by Kanti Singh of RJD. Following Patna High Court order in the Bathani Tola massacre when the JDU minister announced that the State Government would appeal against the acquittal of 23 people in the Supreme Court, Brahmeshwar Singh had opposed such move. A ruling BJP minister argued that old wounds should not be provoked.
On May 7, 2012, Brahmeshwar Singh had announced the formation of ABRKS to struggle for farmers’ interest. He was killed in the early morning of June 1, 2012 in his own locality in Ara town, Bhojpur. ABRKS supporters unleashed a reign of terror in SC & ST hostel, destroyed public property, manhandled BJP MLA, JDU MLA and DGP of Bihar. His dead body was brought 55 kms away from Ara for cremation in Patna on June 2, 2012. The funeral procession unleashed a reign of terror in Patna. Organisers of the cremation appealed to mourners to refrain from teasing girls either at road, or in Diara or at cremation ghat. Media reports reveal that mourners had turned up from Odisha and Gujarat too. The procession was hostile towards media.
ABRKS release refers to 3rd June violence in Patna apologized for misbehavior with Police and media persons and for anarchy created by mischief makers. It termed such misbehavior as political conspiracy to malign its supporters. The preparation for the cremation was done by members of BJP and BJP’s youth wing. Notably, BJP State President Dr C P Thakur praised DGP for displaying exemplary restraint in dealing with the mob fury of the mourners in the funeral procession. Bihar Chief Minister cancelled his 3 day Sewa Yatra to Bhojpur. The circuit house where he was supposed to stay was burnt by the sympathizers of Brahmeshwar Singh. He has handed over the matter of investigation of Brahmeshwar Singh’s murder to CBI as was demanded by most parties including BJP.
The proactive action of Bihar Police has been evident in Forbesganj, Nala Road, Patna, and Aurangabad. Their passivity in the case of violence by the funeral procession and in the case of amputation of hands of a Dalit by the class which supports Sena is underlining an explicit narrative which needs to be read by progressive political forces before it is too late.
Having compelled the State Government to wound up Justice Amir Das Commission that probed Ranvir Sena, BJP has demonstrated its support for the Sena. Amir Das Commission set up in 1997, after the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre had the mandate of the commission to inquire if there were any links between political parties and the Ranvir Sena but State government disbanded the commission in 2006, just before it was to submit its report.
Gujarat like complicity of Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee and RJD became evident in the manner in which they paid homage to Brahmeshwar Singh. The vehicle that carried the dead body of Brahmeshwar declared him as a martyr.
Within days of this incident, a member of Babbar Khalsa, Balwant Singh Rajoana, the killer of Punjab Chief Minister, Beant Singh was honored with the title of a ‘living martyr’ by Sikh clerics under the patronage of Akali Dal-BJP government on the 28th anniversary of Operation Blue Star on June 6. Is it just a coincidence?
It appears that BJP has launched its 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign echoing Gujarat model of governance in complicity with senior State Police officials. During the recent Rajya Sabha elections, cadre less JDU may have underlined the junior partner status of Sushil Kumar Modi led BJP in the State’s ruling alliance. The emergent and indulgent anarchy in districts like Bhojpur, Patna, Gaya, Jehanabad, Aurangabad, Buxar, Rohtas, Kaimur, Arwal and Patna demonstrates that in violent street politics, cadre based BJP is a senior partner. The incidents of June 1 and June 2 reveal that cadres of ABRKS, BJP and its other affiliates withdrew support from Nitish Kumar led government to drive home a message.
The last thing Brahmeshwar Singh did before his death was to re-organise his outfit as a new farmers’ organization. Although the same river cannot be crossed twice, the fertile Gangetic plains remains fit ever fit for both bitter and sweet harvest. A seasoned left leader who had visited both sides of the massacres during massacres and counter massacres of 1990s informs that there may have been a statistical error in defining small and big farmers. If that is indeed the case, the definition needs to be re-visited by political parties to arrive at a consensus to set matters right. To begin with implementation of the immediately implementable recommendations of D Bandhopadya led Bihar Land Reform Commission that submitted its report in April 2008 should have been set in motion.
Instead the progressive agenda of the government like implementing the Common School System recommended by State Government’s own Common School System Commission comprising of Dr Madan Mohan Jha, Prof. Anil Sadgopal and Prof. Muchkund Dubey has been consigned to dustbin and a failed development and education model has been adopted.
As of now regressive policies have started unfolding in a regressive political climate where big landholders and contractors are acting as a law unto themselves. Replumbing of river basins is being pursued which is an invitation for disaster of Soviet ilk. Instead of resisting the ecologically destructive central interlinking of rivers project, Bihar itself has proposed similar projects. In times of right wing emergence of various shades, ecological sanity is the first casualty.
It does not require infinite wisdom to comprehend that Gujarat’s politics and development is unfit for Bihar. Japanese, Chinese and European ilk of development is also not fit for Bihar, say saintly voices like Sachidanand Sinha, a legendry Socialist thinker.
Genocidal politics is anathema in Bihar but efforts are on by a section of State BJP to imitate Gujarat in every aspect. The incidents of June 1 and June 2 in Bhojpur and Patna are a grim reminder of the dangers of conniving at the acts of omission and commission of few hundreds of people.
Ahead of 2014 elections, if the officials and ministers who are complicit in spreading anarchy in the State capital are not made accountable, Bihar is all set to go the Gujarat way. Miscreants are testing waters. For now they know they can swim in it with impunity and ensure the electoral and non-electoral victory for violent political entrepreneurs and investors. The core question that merits answer is: Will the seemingly sterile political imagination of Bihar’s progressive parties and its enlightened citizenry read the writing on the wall and join hands for action, to arrest the precipitous decline towards Nazification of State and national politics before the spark spreads too far?