Former Rashtriya Janata Dal MP, Mohammad Shahabuddin, who is serving a life imprisonment in connection with a murder case, was running his own “janata durbar” twice every week from inside Bihar’s Siwan jail. People from all walks of society, brazenly ignoring jail manuals, would visit him, along with their mobile phones and seek his help and blessings in getting contracts, settling political rivalries and fixing officials. On Wednesday late night, Shahabuddin was shifted to Bhagalpur jail. Official sources said that the fact that Shahabuddin was being allowed to mingle freely with outsiders was known to everyone including senior bureaucrats and ministers in Bihar
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar too is known for organising a weekly janata durbar where he meets people to address their grievances.
On Wednesday, facing the heat because of the murder of a Siwan based journalist working in a Hindi newspaper, a team led by the DM and SP of Siwan raided the jail and were “surprised” to find that almost 60 people were sitting with the jailed ex MP. Among the visitors were local businessmen and RJD leaders. The police also recovered at least 35 mobile phones from them.
The district magistrate of Siwan, Mahendra Kumar told The Sunday Guardian that the shifting of Shahabuddin was done after a security audit revealed lapses. “We did a security audit of the prison and found some violations after which a report was sent to IG Prison, following which instructions were received to shift him. When we went to Siwan jail on Wednesday we found that some people were present there in an unauthorised manner,” he said.
Sources said that despite being out of active politics, the jailed leader had not lost control over Siwan. He had also not lost contact with RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, who last month inducted him in the party’s national executive. In March, state Minority Affairs Minister, Abdul Ghafoor, had entered the prison and had a feast with Shahabuddin, who is serving a life imprisonment for killing two brothers by pouring acid on them.
“That he organises his durbar twice a week is known to every person in Siwan and outside. However, officials are not able to stop it because the RJD is in power in Bihar. His clout has grown stronger since the RJD came into power last year in an alliance with the JDU and Congress,” a Siwan based police officer said.
A Patna based journalist with an English newspaper stated that Shahabuddin had been doing this for long. “I had once got a call from him when he was still in Siwan prison during the Lalu raj and at that time he told me that I, along with a couple of journalists, should come and meet him. Next day, an SUV was waiting at our doorstep to receive us and later we went to his jail, where the jailor himself came out to receive us as we were Shahabuddin’s guests. He had installed a Plasma TV, which would have cost a fortune, in his cell at the time. There, we were offered beer and whisky and after having a discussion for four-five hours, we left. It was not a prison, but more of a holiday home for him,” the journalist recalled.
In 2001, Pancham Lal, the then Saran division commissioner, under which Siwan comes, was forced to seek police force from the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh to raid the home of Shahabuddin as the local police forces were not willing to take him on after he assaulted a DSP in full public view. Before that Shahabuddin had chased the SP of Siwan and beaten him. Lal, who is retired now, made up his mind to take the matter to its logical conclusion but when the encounter was still going on, he got a call from a very senior leader who asked him to exercise restraint. Later, after not getting an answer from Lal, who was known for his ways of doing things, the leader dispatched Lal’s superiors to Siwan to make sure that Shahabuddin stayed safe. In the six-hour-long gun battle which left 14, including two policemen, dead, an AK-47 rifle, two grenades, two 9 mm pistols and ammunition were recovered from Shahabuddin’s house. Soon thereafter, the SP and the DM of the district were transferred by the state government. Later, the controversial leader had publicly announced that he would kill the officer who had led the raid even if he had to chase him to Rajasthan.
Official sources see the shifting of Shahbuddin to Bhagalpur prison as more of a temporary action. “In the past too, he has been shifted to Bhagalpur prison from Siwan prison, which is his stronghold. But, within a few days, he again manages to come back,” the police official said.