A spate of criminal activities in broad daylight, including the alleged rape of a dalit girl on the premises of the ADM’s office in Patna, has made Bihar’s residents apprehensive about the return of jungle raj, an issue raised unsuccessfully by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party during the polls which were dominated by the state’s labyrinthine caste arithmetic.
Though it is only one month since the Grand Alliance has come to power, reports of loot and dacoity hit the headlines from the very next day. The Rashtriya Janata Dal led by Lalu Yadav emerged as Bihar’s single largest party, securing 80 of the 101 seats it contested.
On 9 November, a dalit girl who had gone to buy milk at Bakarganj area adjacent to Gandhi Maidan in the heart of Patna was chased by three youths who took her to the ADM’s office premises nearby and raped her. The same day there was a molestation attempt on a woman constable at Alamganj Court in Patna city.
Other districts in Bihar too witnessed a free run of the law breakers, bringing the spectre of the 1990s back, when the state under Lalu Yadav and later his wife, Rabri Devi, was the metaphor for institutionalised crime. The week following the 8 November’s resounding victory of the Grand Alliance, which bagged 178 of 243 Assembly seats, closed with gory incidents being reported from different districts. In Katihar on 13 November, a liquor trader Shambhu Nayak was shot dead by miscreants. On 14 November, Dharmendra Yadav, a railway contractor was gunned down in Muzaffarpur over tender rivalry. On 15 November, a fertiliser trader Harishankar Singh was kidnapped by six armed criminals for ransom when he was taking a morning walk at a railway station in Siwan. Later, on 29 November in Mansahi, Purnia, a group of cattle traders were robbed of Rs 10 lakh by armed criminals. One of them was shot at when he showed resistance.
As the lawless activities unfolded in quick succession, the upper middle classes in Patna are left worrying about their property and assets. “We have heard of big businessmen being harassed for money, but in the days of Lalu even people from the well-to-do middle classes were not spared. Land grab was rampant, and that is why we are very afraid to leave our houses behind and go for long vacations now that the RJD is back in power,” said a retired professor of Patna University who did not wish to be named. His apprehension is pretty common among the elderly couples in Patna. Most of them have their children settled in metropolitan cities, and in the last many years they have been shuttling between Patna and the cities where their children live. It is common for old couples to lock the house for months and go and live with their children in some other part of the country. But with Lalu back in power and his sons ensconced in the Cabinet, people are afraid it will be no longer wise to leave their houses unattended for long intervals. In the 1990s, land grab was rampant and goons were always in the lookout for soft targets. There had been many cases where old people were forced to sell off their houses at a throwaway price when bullied by anti-social elements.
“We certainly do not want to attract the attention of the goons by abandoning our houses for several months and going away to live with our children in some other city,” said a 65-year-old Bengali man who lives in Ashok Rajpath. “Since 2006, we have been living in Patna for six months and in Bangalore for the remaining time at our son’s place. But with the RJD coming to power, we are very upset. We had already come to the end of our Patna stay and were planning to leave for Bangalore for the next six months by the end of December. But we cancelled the tickets after the stories of loot and dacoity came to light following the Grand Alliance’s victory. We will wait and watch, and then decide whether it would be safe to leave our house,” he added.
Another retired government officer, whose son got married last month, said, “We were lucky that we got our son married off just as this new government settled in. Who knows what is in store in the future? Marriages in Bihar were a big security concern. You would be fretting every moment during the wedding days as everybody would know that you have cash and jewellery in the house. The possibility of being visited by goons for rangdari (extortion) was not at all uncommon.” His wife added, “We are not going to take the risk with our younger son. We have decided we will have a destination wedding for him, at some safe place outside Bihar.”
People in general are seen recalling the crimes of the 1990s which are etched in the collective psyche of Bihar as unnerving folklore. “There was a time when even professors running a small coaching centre or doctors with a private nursing home would get extortion calls. The police would remain a mute spectator and the goons had a free run. If a professor or a doctor failed to meet the demand, he would be killed in broad daylight. The goons would not even flee the crime spot. They would leave at their own pace without any fear of being arrested,” recalled the professor quoted above. He told this correspondent how S. Lal, a famous professor and HOD of the Chemistry department of the very well-known Science College in Patna, was gunned down by goons in 2003 hours after he said he would not pay them an extortion sum of Rs 1.5 lakh that had been demanded.
Another high profile killing was that of Dr N.K. Agarwal. He was shot dead in his private clinic in the heart of Patna in 2004, three days after he had complained to police about extortion. Petrol pump owners and restaurant owners were other major targets at a time political patronage to criminals was widely suspected. Kidnapping of schoolchildren was the recurring headline in all major newspapers for over a decade. In fact, kidnapping had turned into a profitable industry. The Bindu Singh gang, and also the Anant Singh alias Chhote Sarkar gang, were among the most notorious. Ex-Siwan MP Mohd Shahabuddin was a dreaded leader known for heralding in an era of guns and gangs. Nobody was allowed to call him by his name. He had to be addressed as sahab and people say it was obligatory for shop owners in Siwan to hang his photo.
From 1990 — when Lalu became CM for the first time — to 2004, when his Rashtriya Janata Dal was ousted, murder, rape and kidnapping remained the order of the day. A whole generation of youngsters grew up witnessing infamous incidents of Lalu’s brothers-in-law stopping Rajdhani trains at non-stipulated stations or beating or threatening serving officers in a bizarre show of might. Although Lalu’s son, Bihar’s deputy Chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav, has assured people of law and order, the well-off people clearly are not convinced about their safety.