RJD vice-president Mohammad Shahabuddin, who was released on bail from the Bhagalpur jail on Saturday morning following an order of the Patna High Court, gave enough hint of future political equations in Bihar by declaring that Lalu Prasad Yadav was the natural leader of Bihar and not Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. His observation got support from another vice-president of the party and former Union minister Raghuwansh Prasad Singh who said Shahabuddin is right in calling Lalu the natural leader of Bihar.

Shahabuddin’s statement has put the JDU and Congress, two partners in the Grand Alliance, on the defensive as Chief Minister Nitish Kumar refused to react on Shahabuddin’s statement, while Congress committee president and Education Minister Ashok Kumar Chaudhury stated that “Shahabuddinji has made the statement in his individual capacity”. A protége of Lalu Yadav, Shahabuddin’s release is expected to “empower” Lalu in more ways than one.

RJD sources said that at least 40 RJD MLAs and ministers have already called up Shahabuddin to express their happiness over his release until Saturday night and are reaching his place to meet him. Shahabuddin described the Bihar Excise and Prohibition Act, which is Nitish Kumar’s pet project, as a draconian and “black law”. When asked by reporters, he refused to work on changing his image and said he would “be like as he was for the past 26 years in his public life”. He was first elected to the Bihar Assembly in 1990.

Shahabuddin who was in Siwan, Gopalganj, Gaya and Bhagalpur jails for the past 11 years, was greeted by thousands of his supporters outside the Bhagalpur jail with slogans of “Sarkar is out of jail” after he came out of the jail at 7.10 am, escorted by prison officials, who took him to his waiting cavalcade of SUVs. During the 400 km long route between Bhagalpur and his village in Pratappur bordering UP, Shahabuddin was welcomed with garlands and bursting of crackers at different places on the highway as over 1,300 four-wheelers joined the convoy when it reached his village Pratappur.

Shahabuddin’s release was ordered on Thursday by the High Court in the murder case of two brothers in 2004. Rajiv Roshan, the third and only surviving brother and son of a Gopalganj resident Chanda Babu, too, was killed in 2014, allegedly by Shahabuddin’s supporters at Gaya as he was the only eyewitness to the murder of his brothers. After hearing the news of Shahabuddin’s release, the father of the three brothers said that he does not have the will power or the resources to challenge the release of Shahabuddin in the Supreme Court.

Two months ago, a journalist of a Hindi daily was also killed at Siwan, allegedly at the behest of Shahabuddin. The journalist’s wife, who had met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi two days back, stated that she would commit suicide as Shahabuddin is now out of jail.

At his peak, Shahabuddin had 49 cases of murder, extortion and other heinous  crimes  registered against him, including a case of assaulting an SP rank officer.

Commenting on Shahabuddin’s release, Union Law and Justice Minister Ravishankar Prasad said he feared the return of “jungle raj” in Bihar and asked the state government to provide adequate security to the families of the victims of atrocities perpetrated by Shahabuddin and also the witnesses in the cases that are still going on.

Former Deputy CM and senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi alleged that Shahabuddin was released on bail due to the failure of the state government to start the trial against Shahabuddin in the Rajiv Roshan murder case of 2014.

“On 3 February 2016, the High Court had directed that the trial in the case must be completed in nine months, but even after seven months, the trial could not begin,” he said.

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