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Bihar: The Communal Conundrum

Mohammed Sajjad 07 Dec 2015

On the Agarpur (Lalganj, Vaishali, Bihar) bouts of communal violence



Image for representation purpose only        Courtesy: udayavani.com

Across Bihar, ever since the declaration of the results of the state assembly elections on November 8, there have been at least nine incidents of communal violence between November 9-18, 2015. They were in Nagra Bazar (Saran), Makhdum Sarai (Siwan), Arrah, Phulwari Sharif (Patna), Ameetthiya (Yogapatti, West Champaran), Basatwara (Simri, Darbhanga), Radhanagar (Sajur, Bhagalpur), Hasanpura (Siwan), and at Agarpur (Lalganj, Vaishali). The last three incidents took place on November 18, 2015.

Less than a year ago on January 18, 2015, similar violence broke out in Azizpur (Saraiya, Muzaffarpur) killing few people and setting over 50 houses of Muslims on fire.[1] Agarpur and Azizpur villages are situated close to the historic village of Vaishali. The violence in these two villages are conspicuously similar.

The immediate cause which sparked the Agarpur (in Lalganj thana) violence was when a Muslim driver, Rizwan Khan, who was said to have been excessively drunk, hit three Hindu co-villagers with an out-of-control four-wheeler on November 17, 2015, the day of Chhatth Puja festival. Of these, two people died. The third person to be hit was Lakhpatia Devi of the adjacent village, Jehanabad, who was admitted to the Sadar Hospital, Lalganj. The deceased Rajendra Sah (65) and his 8-month-old granddaughter were admitted to the Patna Medical College Hospital where they died and without lodging a formal case, a funeral was performed in Patna itself, which is barely 40 kilometres away from the village of Agarpur (in Lalganj, Vaishali) connected with very good metallic road called ‘Buddhist Circuit’. Why a case was not lodged with the police, is a question worth asking.

The following day two sets of rumours spread: (a) the police had set the driver free, hence there were allegations of a “police-driver nexus”, and (b) that Lakhpatia Devi had also died. These two rumours were the trigger that fuelled communal violence on November 18. The fact that the owner of the vehicle, Nanhe Khan of Agarpur, is supposed to be a close aide of Munna Shukla, and that Nanhe Khan is also supposed to be what the local people prefer to call him, a dalal (fixer) of the thana (local police station) made the angry Hindus of the neighbourhood easily believe the rumour of police having helped out the driver.

Munna (Vijay) Shukla has been an MLA from Lalganj before being convicted (in 2007) by the court for the murder of the then minister in Lalu-Rabri cabinet, Brij Bihari Prasad, in 1998. Munna Shukla also served jail in the case of killing (mob lynching) of a dalit IAS officer, G. Krishnaiah, on December 5, 1994. Krishnaiah was the district magistrate (DM) of Gopalganj, the native district of the then chief minister Lalu Yadav. Munna Shukla’s elder brother, Chhotan Shukla, was killed in December 1994. It was at/during his funeral that the mob killed the unfortunate DM. Later his brother Bhutkun Shukla was also killed. Earlier, in 1992, the Vaishali MLA, Hemant Shahi, [son of Laliteshwar Prasad Shahi, former MLA Lalganj, Vaishali, and former MP, Muzaffarpur, as well as former union minister of state for human resource development] was killed in the office of the deputy collector--block development officer (BDO) -- of Vaishali, allegedly by the party workers of the ruling Janata Dal.

The city of Muzaffarpur in north Bihar has been famous for being a seat of Bhumihar landlords and politicians, and infamous for many Bhumihar gangsters

The city of Muzaffarpur in north Bihar has been famous for being a seat of Bhumihar landlords and politicians, and infamous for many Bhumihar gangsters. In fact, the history of Muzaffarpur will remain incomplete until a history of the crime within the social sphere is written. The killing of Hemant Shahi (1992), and of the Shukla brothers, immediately after Lalu coming to power in 1990, came to be seen as a political conspiracy of the ‘backwards’ to outdo the upper castes. Brij Bihari Prasad, belonged to Adapur (Champaran), came from a backward caste, was an engineer, and is said to have been a close aide of a Bhumihar strongman and Congress leader of Muzaffarpur, Raghunath Pandey), who patronized him in obtaining contracts for government constructions. Raghunath Pandey, a cinema and transport entrepreneur lorded over Muzaffarpur in the 1970s and 1980s, and became a minister in the Satyendra Narayan Sinha’s cabinet in the late 1980s. Later, the two (Pandey and Prasad) had a fall out.

Brij Bihari Prasad became an MLA from Adapur (Champaran) in 1990 and in 1995, while he was running for the 1985 elections. After 1990, he symbolized the assertion of backward castes in the city of Muzaffarpur, otherwise identified as a centre of the economic and political power of the Bhumihars. In the Rabri cabinet, he was the minister of science and technology when he was killed on June 13, 1998, in broad daylight, in a hospital of Patna. This was seen as revenge by Munna Shukla. This is how Munna Shukla rose to prominence and was elected MLA from Lalganj in 2000 (as Independent) and in 2005 (in February from the LJP when the assembly could not be formed; and in October from the JDU). When he (along with another Bhumihar gangster-politician from Mokamah, Suraj Bhan Singh) was convicted in the murder case of Brij Bihari Prasad, Munna Shukla’s wife Annu Shukla became an MLA (JDU) from Lalganj in 2010. In the 2015 elections, she was defeated by LJP’s Raj Kumar Sah, a Bania, identified as a backward caste in Bihar. Lalganj Assembly is a segment of Hajipur Lok Sabha represented by Ramvilas Paswan. Earlier it was a part of the Vaishali Lok Sabha.

Brij Bihari Prasad's widow Rama Devi joined the BJP and was elected to the Lok Sabha from Sheohar in 2009, and 2014. Interestingly, she was earlier elected to the Motihari Lok Sabha as RJD nominee in 1998 defeating the BJP's Radha Mohan Singh by a huge margin. Rama Devi received her education from the SRPS College, Jaintpur (Muzaffarpur).

Today the question is: has this electoral defeat made Munna Shukla desperate? Did he play any role in the Agarpur communal violence?

Nitish Kumar is credited to have “single-handedly” converted, the 'niyojit' sikshaks (contractually appointed teachers) numbering a total of 3,34,000, into regular government employees with a proper pay-scale, something that few state governments have done.

Munna Shukla is learned to have become little desperate about the course of his political career. In the recent, high voltage election and the significant victory of the Mahagathbandhan, upper caste hegemony has received another little more jolt. Shukla, despite being with the Mahagathbandhan has not been very comfortable with Nitish Kumar. Moreover, the Mahagathbandhan by not conceding a single Assembly seat to the Congress in Muzaffarpur and Vaishali sent a rather strong message to the Bhumihars and Rajputs in these parts of Bihar. They feel further marginalised in the present regime. This insecurity is also visible in the conduct of professor Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, a Rajput, and also the vice president of the RJD, who lost the last parliamentary elections from Vaishali (to the LJP’s Ramakishor Singh, a man with a criminal record). Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, as also JDU’s MLC Dinesh Singh of Muzaffarpur, have both failed in transferring the Rajput votes to the RJD (Mahagathbandhan) candidates in the just concluded assembly elections.

The CSDS-Lokniti report reveals that the Rajputs have been more enthusiastic supporters and voters of the BJP in Bihar in 2015, with 69-70% of them having voted for the BJP. Singh’s electorates in Vaishali-Muzaffarpur, have long standing complaints that his favours go much disproportionately to his caste peers, the Rajputs. Both Shukla and Singh, are now reported to be feeling a great sense of insecurity within the Mahagathbandhan. It is more than likely that the ruling dispensation would search for new leaders from among the Bhumihars and Rajputs in this part of Bihar.

So Nanhe Khan, the vehicle owner of Agarpur (Lalganj), both a close aide of Munna Shukla, and also being upwardly mobile in terms of economic affluence and his muscle flexing tendencies, has been an eyesore to the locality. Nanhe Khan also had some conflicts with some Hindus of the neighbouring village, Jehanabad. This conflict got enhanced in the campaign and run up to the recent assembly elections. From local reports, it appears that among the people who attacked the Muslims of Agarpur on November 18, most belonged to the adjacent villages and a handful in the violent mob belonged to Agarpur, which has over 200 Hindu families, comprising mostly of banias and other backward castes. So much so that even the one Vikas Kumar killed by the police bullet, belonged to the neighbouring village of Ataullapur. Did the deceased Vikas Kumar belong to the violent mob or was he merely an onlooker, is also a moot question?

The rumour that spread – that the driver Rizwan was let off by the police – gathered currency with the angry mob because of the pre-existing nexus between some strongmen who happened to be muslim, with the police. Rizwan was not found there in the lock up that Wednesday. (He was perhaps transferred by the police to elsewhere). This caused the angry mob of Hindus to turn their ire on the police. They brutally lynched Ajit Kumar to death. Ajit Kumar was the SHO of the neighbouring Belsar thana, who was called in to control the violent mob. Incidentally Ajit Kumar was going to retire in two years and hailed from Nalanda, the native district of Nitish Kumar. Many in the locality are raising a question: Did Ajit Kumar become a target of angry Hindu mobs because of his identity being somewhat similar to that of Nitish Kumar who was to take oath as chief minister on November 20, 2015?

Another lingering question remains. How did this incident of running over by a vehicle (a vehicle accident) turn into outright communal violence when the surviving and immediate kin of the victims — both Rajendra Sah and his little grand-daughter — did not in any way give it any communal interpretation ? They did not even lodge a police case or insist for a post mortem of the two dead bodies. The second important question is how did, all of a sudden, a large number of people, about a thousand, gather with weapons like petrol bombs? Was this ‘communal violence’ episode pre-planned?

Locals have observed that the pattern of arson, loot and violence was similar to that of Azizpur violence ( January 18, 2015). In both the villages, most of the attackers are said to belong to the Ati Pichhrha caste of Mallah (Hindu fishermen). In these localities, quite a number of the Mallahs are reportedly joining either the extreme left, the ‘Maoists’, or the extreme Hindu right wing, the Bajrang Dal. This phenomenon needs a deeper study.

In recent decades old small mosques have developed into new big ones with tall minars. This does not compare favourably with the Hindu temples which are often not as high as the minars of the mosques.

Another similarity between the Azizpur violence and the Agarpur violence: In both the cases, Muslim hoodlums patronised by local political hegemon, have been at the centre of the controversy. In September-October 2014, in the same locality, at another village, Turkauliya (in Paroo-Saraiya police station locality of Muzaffarpur), communal tensions emerged between Pasmanda Muslims and Hindu Mallahs. The violence could be avoided with visible and sustained efforts like inter-community dialogues and prompt administrative interventions. Here too a Muslim hoodlum, patronised by a local political hegemon, was the cause of such a conflict.

In other words, in present day Bihar, local hoodlums are one of the root causes of conflicts that could and do, turn communal. These local thugs, belonging to the minority as much as the majority community are not only patronized by the political hegemons but also get adequate protection from the local cops and other state functionaries. The upper/senior echelons of the police and other agencies of administration, rely more on their subordinates who are part of this unfortunate nexus rather than information obtained through independent and reliable sources.

There have been as many as 667 instances of communal skirmishes across Bihar after June 18, 2013 (when Nitish broke away with the BJP alliance).  On September 19, 2013 the carcass of a pig was found inside a mosque under construction in Bhanpur Brewa, a hamlet of Muslims and Dalits near Mahua in the district of Vaishali which has the highest density (20.68%) of Dalits in north Bihar, and from where Lalu’s son Tej Pratap Yadav has been elected. On September 30, 2013 scores of Hindus and Muslims pelted stones at each other following an alleged incident of cow slaughter in the Yadav-dominated Chakmajahid, another village in the vicinity, where on July 31, 2014, posters appeared on the wall of a mosque with this expletive-ridden line: “….. Kasai gai katna bandh karo” (Butchers stop killing cows). Incidentally, VHP leader Pravin Togadia was in Mahua, 5 km from Chakmajahid, on May 28, 2015, to address a rally organised by the Gau Pushtikaran Sanghathan. Pravin Togadia had also visited Saraiya after the Azizpur violence of January 2015. Incidentally, besides Ram Vilas Paswan, another NDA ally and the Koeri leader, Upendra Kushwaha (chief of the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party-RLSP), also belongs to the district of Vaishali.

The gradual communalisation of this locality, otherwise historically known for communal harmony, has also been taking place since late 1990s when the chain of RSS schools shishu mandirs have been established and has grown. In and after the 1990s, the duly recruited teachers of the government schools retired. There was not much recruitment of teachers to fill in these vacancies, whereas there has been a significant rise in the demand for school education. The under-staffed government schools gave way to private schools which are misleadingly dubbed as ‘convent’. Simultaneously, RSS schools also started coming up. These shishu mandirs came to be seen as a relatively better source of education compared to the government schools. These schools came to be preferred by the upper castes and also by the relatively affluent or less disadvantaged sections of the backward castes and Dalits. Gradually this gave rise to the Sunday drillings of the RSS shakhas in different nooks and corners of Bihar.

From 2006 onwards, with enhanced facilities being provided by the state government to its schools –including providing bicycles to students, providing mid-day meals and uniforms, etc. -- there has been some check on the influence and spread of the RSS school. This may not be going unnoticed by the RSS think tank. This was yet another reason, though unpublicised, why the alliance between JDU and BJP was increasingly becoming uneasy. This also explains why the RSS affiliated BJP workers were increasingly becoming angrier with the then deputy chief minister, Sushil Modi, who, according to the RSS expectations, was not resisting Nitish Kumar adequately. Nitish Kumar is credited to have “single-handedly” converted, the 'niyojit' sikshaks (contractually appointed teachers) numbering a total of 3,34,000, into regular government employees with a proper pay-scale, something that few state governments have done. Since 2003, this segment was desperately waiting to be placed on proper pay-scale. The JDU and the BJP had promised this in their manifesto of 2010. But, Sushil Modi, the then deputy chief minister cum finance minister (2005-13) had reportedly back-tracked on. Nitish took this bold step soon after his split with the BJP in June 2013 and thus won lasting support.

The communalisation of the mind caused by the growth of the RSS shakha and school has seen similar tendencies among the state’s minorities. In the Muslim neighbourhoods, each village has a few people working in the Middle East that is the Gulf countries. Their affluence resulting from this remittance economy does not remain unnoticed. Old and small mosques have transformed into larger more visible ones with tall minars. This does not compare favourably with the Hindu temples, often not as high or visible as the minars of the mosques. In many cases, the rising subscription to the ‘Neo-Wahabi’, the Saudi Arab version of contemporary Islam, is also posing a problem for Hindu-Muslim harmony, as also for intra-Muslim maslaki (sectarian) harmony.

There has been reservation (since 2006, soon after Nitish Kumar took over as chief minister in November 2005), in the Panchayati Raj institutions for the Ati Pichhrha – Extremely or Most Backward-E/MBC (28 of the 41 Muslim communities fall in this category; 9 in Pichhrha-Backward- and rest 4 are upper castes), many Muslims belonging to these categories have moved up the ladder of political empowerment. Gradually this too has become a source of conflict, more particularly when it comes to electing the pramukh (chief of Panchayat Samiti), and chairman (adhyaksh, i.e. chief of the zila parishad (district board). In the elections for these positions, quite often, money and muscle prevail. All these have resulted into identity-based rivalries. Moreover, the funds pouring in for rural development through the Panchayati Raj institutions has given boost to the hoodlums and criminals, who rise up the political ladder through these institutions.

This may explain the context why and how Owaisi decided to jump into the Bihar elections this year in 2015. It all began with the Azizpur riots of Muzaffarpur in north Bihar.
 
Immediately after the Azizpur riots, some necessary, though not adequate, action against the culprits of the violence was initiated. The video-footage of a local journalist Arun Srivastav provided the initial lead into investigations. It helped in identifying and nabbing the culprits of the violence. The government also provided a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the next surviving kin of each deceased; each injured got Rs 20,000; of the 56 houses of the village, there were 77 families; each of 77 got Rs 4700 for kitchen utensils, the government then assessed the total property loss and the compensation for the loss. Yet, some Muslim leaders and the leaders-in-making started playing the victim, and recurrent visits of these Muslim leaders also delivered inflammatory speeches alienating the Hindus who were cooperating with the police in punishing the rioters. Once these inflammatory speeches were delivered there was competitive incitements provided by Pravin Togadia’s visit that soon followed to Saraiya (Muzaffarpur).
 
There were attempts by some Muslim leaders to milk the tragedy. Outraged with these, certain segments of the liberal Muslims had to issue appeals for soul-searching within the community to marginalise and condemn the hoodlums, also called rangdaars or dalals. Subsequently, a Muslim aide to Jitan Manjhi, Syed Sharim Ali (who was appointed by the chief minister Manjhi as the Waqf Administrator), and Shahid Ali Khan, (who was the Minister for Minority Affairs in the Nitish cabinet), joined the Manjhi’s HAM-S. After the news of the Manjhi’s overtures towards the BJP started coming out, it was Syed Sharim Ali who flew to Hyderabad and had a long meeting with Asaduddin Owaisi. Some of the ‘activists’ and ‘intelligentsia’ of the Muslims who had made interventions for justice in the Azizpur riots are also close to Sharim Ali as well as to Akhtarul Iman.
 
Shahid Ali Khan contested from Sursand (in Sitamarhi), as HAM-S nominee, and Syed Sharim Ali contested from Belaganj (in Gaya district) as a nominee of the HAM-S. Akhtarul Iman, having burnt his boats with the RJD and JDU in 2014 chose to become the Bihar face of the AIMIM on whose ticket he contested from the Kochadaman Assembly seat of Kishanganj in 2015. This is how the people of Bihar rightly concluded that there did exist a BJP-Manjhi-Owaisi nexus in the Assembly elections 2015.
 
Local political dynamics mixed with growing competitive communalization of both Hindus and Muslims and the encouragement of and inducements to the local hoodlums/criminals of both the communities are the major factors behind recent resurgence of communal tension and violence across Bihar. Communal political forces may have been defeated at the electoral hustings overtly. But the process of communalization does continue. Sadly, this is contributed to immensely by the faults in the governance of those who vouch to be the greatest champions of secularism and social justice. As the left and socialist forces have given up on peasant radicalism, communal forces are making use of the ever swelling ranks of hoodlums. This remains one of the biggest problems of contemporary Bihar. It needs to be addressed immediately by civil rights activists, academic researchers and of course the state administration. The eventual beneficiary of communal politics can only be the overtly communal political parties.
 
(The author is associated with the Centre of Advanced Study in History Aligarh Muslim University. An expanded version is expected to be published soon]
 
 
[1] See my essay “Caste, Community and Crime: Explaining the Violence in Muzaffarpur” in Economic & Political Weekly, 31 January 2015

Bihar: The Communal Conundrum

On the Agarpur (Lalganj, Vaishali, Bihar) bouts of communal violence



Image for representation purpose only        Courtesy: udayavani.com

Across Bihar, ever since the declaration of the results of the state assembly elections on November 8, there have been at least nine incidents of communal violence between November 9-18, 2015. They were in Nagra Bazar (Saran), Makhdum Sarai (Siwan), Arrah, Phulwari Sharif (Patna), Ameetthiya (Yogapatti, West Champaran), Basatwara (Simri, Darbhanga), Radhanagar (Sajur, Bhagalpur), Hasanpura (Siwan), and at Agarpur (Lalganj, Vaishali). The last three incidents took place on November 18, 2015.

Less than a year ago on January 18, 2015, similar violence broke out in Azizpur (Saraiya, Muzaffarpur) killing few people and setting over 50 houses of Muslims on fire.[1] Agarpur and Azizpur villages are situated close to the historic village of Vaishali. The violence in these two villages are conspicuously similar.

The immediate cause which sparked the Agarpur (in Lalganj thana) violence was when a Muslim driver, Rizwan Khan, who was said to have been excessively drunk, hit three Hindu co-villagers with an out-of-control four-wheeler on November 17, 2015, the day of Chhatth Puja festival. Of these, two people died. The third person to be hit was Lakhpatia Devi of the adjacent village, Jehanabad, who was admitted to the Sadar Hospital, Lalganj. The deceased Rajendra Sah (65) and his 8-month-old granddaughter were admitted to the Patna Medical College Hospital where they died and without lodging a formal case, a funeral was performed in Patna itself, which is barely 40 kilometres away from the village of Agarpur (in Lalganj, Vaishali) connected with very good metallic road called ‘Buddhist Circuit’. Why a case was not lodged with the police, is a question worth asking.

The following day two sets of rumours spread: (a) the police had set the driver free, hence there were allegations of a “police-driver nexus”, and (b) that Lakhpatia Devi had also died. These two rumours were the trigger that fuelled communal violence on November 18. The fact that the owner of the vehicle, Nanhe Khan of Agarpur, is supposed to be a close aide of Munna Shukla, and that Nanhe Khan is also supposed to be what the local people prefer to call him, a dalal (fixer) of the thana (local police station) made the angry Hindus of the neighbourhood easily believe the rumour of police having helped out the driver.

Munna (Vijay) Shukla has been an MLA from Lalganj before being convicted (in 2007) by the court for the murder of the then minister in Lalu-Rabri cabinet, Brij Bihari Prasad, in 1998. Munna Shukla also served jail in the case of killing (mob lynching) of a dalit IAS officer, G. Krishnaiah, on December 5, 1994. Krishnaiah was the district magistrate (DM) of Gopalganj, the native district of the then chief minister Lalu Yadav. Munna Shukla’s elder brother, Chhotan Shukla, was killed in December 1994. It was at/during his funeral that the mob killed the unfortunate DM. Later his brother Bhutkun Shukla was also killed. Earlier, in 1992, the Vaishali MLA, Hemant Shahi, [son of Laliteshwar Prasad Shahi, former MLA Lalganj, Vaishali, and former MP, Muzaffarpur, as well as former union minister of state for human resource development] was killed in the office of the deputy collector--block development officer (BDO) -- of Vaishali, allegedly by the party workers of the ruling Janata Dal.

The city of Muzaffarpur in north Bihar has been famous for being a seat of Bhumihar landlords and politicians, and infamous for many Bhumihar gangsters

The city of Muzaffarpur in north Bihar has been famous for being a seat of Bhumihar landlords and politicians, and infamous for many Bhumihar gangsters. In fact, the history of Muzaffarpur will remain incomplete until a history of the crime within the social sphere is written. The killing of Hemant Shahi (1992), and of the Shukla brothers, immediately after Lalu coming to power in 1990, came to be seen as a political conspiracy of the ‘backwards’ to outdo the upper castes. Brij Bihari Prasad, belonged to Adapur (Champaran), came from a backward caste, was an engineer, and is said to have been a close aide of a Bhumihar strongman and Congress leader of Muzaffarpur, Raghunath Pandey), who patronized him in obtaining contracts for government constructions. Raghunath Pandey, a cinema and transport entrepreneur lorded over Muzaffarpur in the 1970s and 1980s, and became a minister in the Satyendra Narayan Sinha’s cabinet in the late 1980s. Later, the two (Pandey and Prasad) had a fall out.

Brij Bihari Prasad became an MLA from Adapur (Champaran) in 1990 and in 1995, while he was running for the 1985 elections. After 1990, he symbolized the assertion of backward castes in the city of Muzaffarpur, otherwise identified as a centre of the economic and political power of the Bhumihars. In the Rabri cabinet, he was the minister of science and technology when he was killed on June 13, 1998, in broad daylight, in a hospital of Patna. This was seen as revenge by Munna Shukla. This is how Munna Shukla rose to prominence and was elected MLA from Lalganj in 2000 (as Independent) and in 2005 (in February from the LJP when the assembly could not be formed; and in October from the JDU). When he (along with another Bhumihar gangster-politician from Mokamah, Suraj Bhan Singh) was convicted in the murder case of Brij Bihari Prasad, Munna Shukla’s wife Annu Shukla became an MLA (JDU) from Lalganj in 2010. In the 2015 elections, she was defeated by LJP’s Raj Kumar Sah, a Bania, identified as a backward caste in Bihar. Lalganj Assembly is a segment of Hajipur Lok Sabha represented by Ramvilas Paswan. Earlier it was a part of the Vaishali Lok Sabha.

Brij Bihari Prasad's widow Rama Devi joined the BJP and was elected to the Lok Sabha from Sheohar in 2009, and 2014. Interestingly, she was earlier elected to the Motihari Lok Sabha as RJD nominee in 1998 defeating the BJP's Radha Mohan Singh by a huge margin. Rama Devi received her education from the SRPS College, Jaintpur (Muzaffarpur).

Today the question is: has this electoral defeat made Munna Shukla desperate? Did he play any role in the Agarpur communal violence?

Nitish Kumar is credited to have “single-handedly” converted, the 'niyojit' sikshaks (contractually appointed teachers) numbering a total of 3,34,000, into regular government employees with a proper pay-scale, something that few state governments have done.

Munna Shukla is learned to have become little desperate about the course of his political career. In the recent, high voltage election and the significant victory of the Mahagathbandhan, upper caste hegemony has received another little more jolt. Shukla, despite being with the Mahagathbandhan has not been very comfortable with Nitish Kumar. Moreover, the Mahagathbandhan by not conceding a single Assembly seat to the Congress in Muzaffarpur and Vaishali sent a rather strong message to the Bhumihars and Rajputs in these parts of Bihar. They feel further marginalised in the present regime. This insecurity is also visible in the conduct of professor Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, a Rajput, and also the vice president of the RJD, who lost the last parliamentary elections from Vaishali (to the LJP’s Ramakishor Singh, a man with a criminal record). Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, as also JDU’s MLC Dinesh Singh of Muzaffarpur, have both failed in transferring the Rajput votes to the RJD (Mahagathbandhan) candidates in the just concluded assembly elections.

The CSDS-Lokniti report reveals that the Rajputs have been more enthusiastic supporters and voters of the BJP in Bihar in 2015, with 69-70% of them having voted for the BJP. Singh’s electorates in Vaishali-Muzaffarpur, have long standing complaints that his favours go much disproportionately to his caste peers, the Rajputs. Both Shukla and Singh, are now reported to be feeling a great sense of insecurity within the Mahagathbandhan. It is more than likely that the ruling dispensation would search for new leaders from among the Bhumihars and Rajputs in this part of Bihar.

So Nanhe Khan, the vehicle owner of Agarpur (Lalganj), both a close aide of Munna Shukla, and also being upwardly mobile in terms of economic affluence and his muscle flexing tendencies, has been an eyesore to the locality. Nanhe Khan also had some conflicts with some Hindus of the neighbouring village, Jehanabad. This conflict got enhanced in the campaign and run up to the recent assembly elections. From local reports, it appears that among the people who attacked the Muslims of Agarpur on November 18, most belonged to the adjacent villages and a handful in the violent mob belonged to Agarpur, which has over 200 Hindu families, comprising mostly of banias and other backward castes. So much so that even the one Vikas Kumar killed by the police bullet, belonged to the neighbouring village of Ataullapur. Did the deceased Vikas Kumar belong to the violent mob or was he merely an onlooker, is also a moot question?

The rumour that spread – that the driver Rizwan was let off by the police – gathered currency with the angry mob because of the pre-existing nexus between some strongmen who happened to be muslim, with the police. Rizwan was not found there in the lock up that Wednesday. (He was perhaps transferred by the police to elsewhere). This caused the angry mob of Hindus to turn their ire on the police. They brutally lynched Ajit Kumar to death. Ajit Kumar was the SHO of the neighbouring Belsar thana, who was called in to control the violent mob. Incidentally Ajit Kumar was going to retire in two years and hailed from Nalanda, the native district of Nitish Kumar. Many in the locality are raising a question: Did Ajit Kumar become a target of angry Hindu mobs because of his identity being somewhat similar to that of Nitish Kumar who was to take oath as chief minister on November 20, 2015?

Another lingering question remains. How did this incident of running over by a vehicle (a vehicle accident) turn into outright communal violence when the surviving and immediate kin of the victims — both Rajendra Sah and his little grand-daughter — did not in any way give it any communal interpretation ? They did not even lodge a police case or insist for a post mortem of the two dead bodies. The second important question is how did, all of a sudden, a large number of people, about a thousand, gather with weapons like petrol bombs? Was this ‘communal violence’ episode pre-planned?

Locals have observed that the pattern of arson, loot and violence was similar to that of Azizpur violence ( January 18, 2015). In both the villages, most of the attackers are said to belong to the Ati Pichhrha caste of Mallah (Hindu fishermen). In these localities, quite a number of the Mallahs are reportedly joining either the extreme left, the ‘Maoists’, or the extreme Hindu right wing, the Bajrang Dal. This phenomenon needs a deeper study.

In recent decades old small mosques have developed into new big ones with tall minars. This does not compare favourably with the Hindu temples which are often not as high as the minars of the mosques.

Another similarity between the Azizpur violence and the Agarpur violence: In both the cases, Muslim hoodlums patronised by local political hegemon, have been at the centre of the controversy. In September-October 2014, in the same locality, at another village, Turkauliya (in Paroo-Saraiya police station locality of Muzaffarpur), communal tensions emerged between Pasmanda Muslims and Hindu Mallahs. The violence could be avoided with visible and sustained efforts like inter-community dialogues and prompt administrative interventions. Here too a Muslim hoodlum, patronised by a local political hegemon, was the cause of such a conflict.

In other words, in present day Bihar, local hoodlums are one of the root causes of conflicts that could and do, turn communal. These local thugs, belonging to the minority as much as the majority community are not only patronized by the political hegemons but also get adequate protection from the local cops and other state functionaries. The upper/senior echelons of the police and other agencies of administration, rely more on their subordinates who are part of this unfortunate nexus rather than information obtained through independent and reliable sources.

There have been as many as 667 instances of communal skirmishes across Bihar after June 18, 2013 (when Nitish broke away with the BJP alliance).  On September 19, 2013 the carcass of a pig was found inside a mosque under construction in Bhanpur Brewa, a hamlet of Muslims and Dalits near Mahua in the district of Vaishali which has the highest density (20.68%) of Dalits in north Bihar, and from where Lalu’s son Tej Pratap Yadav has been elected. On September 30, 2013 scores of Hindus and Muslims pelted stones at each other following an alleged incident of cow slaughter in the Yadav-dominated Chakmajahid, another village in the vicinity, where on July 31, 2014, posters appeared on the wall of a mosque with this expletive-ridden line: “….. Kasai gai katna bandh karo” (Butchers stop killing cows). Incidentally, VHP leader Pravin Togadia was in Mahua, 5 km from Chakmajahid, on May 28, 2015, to address a rally organised by the Gau Pushtikaran Sanghathan. Pravin Togadia had also visited Saraiya after the Azizpur violence of January 2015. Incidentally, besides Ram Vilas Paswan, another NDA ally and the Koeri leader, Upendra Kushwaha (chief of the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party-RLSP), also belongs to the district of Vaishali.

The gradual communalisation of this locality, otherwise historically known for communal harmony, has also been taking place since late 1990s when the chain of RSS schools shishu mandirs have been established and has grown. In and after the 1990s, the duly recruited teachers of the government schools retired. There was not much recruitment of teachers to fill in these vacancies, whereas there has been a significant rise in the demand for school education. The under-staffed government schools gave way to private schools which are misleadingly dubbed as ‘convent’. Simultaneously, RSS schools also started coming up. These shishu mandirs came to be seen as a relatively better source of education compared to the government schools. These schools came to be preferred by the upper castes and also by the relatively affluent or less disadvantaged sections of the backward castes and Dalits. Gradually this gave rise to the Sunday drillings of the RSS shakhas in different nooks and corners of Bihar.

From 2006 onwards, with enhanced facilities being provided by the state government to its schools –including providing bicycles to students, providing mid-day meals and uniforms, etc. -- there has been some check on the influence and spread of the RSS school. This may not be going unnoticed by the RSS think tank. This was yet another reason, though unpublicised, why the alliance between JDU and BJP was increasingly becoming uneasy. This also explains why the RSS affiliated BJP workers were increasingly becoming angrier with the then deputy chief minister, Sushil Modi, who, according to the RSS expectations, was not resisting Nitish Kumar adequately. Nitish Kumar is credited to have “single-handedly” converted, the 'niyojit' sikshaks (contractually appointed teachers) numbering a total of 3,34,000, into regular government employees with a proper pay-scale, something that few state governments have done. Since 2003, this segment was desperately waiting to be placed on proper pay-scale. The JDU and the BJP had promised this in their manifesto of 2010. But, Sushil Modi, the then deputy chief minister cum finance minister (2005-13) had reportedly back-tracked on. Nitish took this bold step soon after his split with the BJP in June 2013 and thus won lasting support.

The communalisation of the mind caused by the growth of the RSS shakha and school has seen similar tendencies among the state’s minorities. In the Muslim neighbourhoods, each village has a few people working in the Middle East that is the Gulf countries. Their affluence resulting from this remittance economy does not remain unnoticed. Old and small mosques have transformed into larger more visible ones with tall minars. This does not compare favourably with the Hindu temples, often not as high or visible as the minars of the mosques. In many cases, the rising subscription to the ‘Neo-Wahabi’, the Saudi Arab version of contemporary Islam, is also posing a problem for Hindu-Muslim harmony, as also for intra-Muslim maslaki (sectarian) harmony.

There has been reservation (since 2006, soon after Nitish Kumar took over as chief minister in November 2005), in the Panchayati Raj institutions for the Ati Pichhrha – Extremely or Most Backward-E/MBC (28 of the 41 Muslim communities fall in this category; 9 in Pichhrha-Backward- and rest 4 are upper castes), many Muslims belonging to these categories have moved up the ladder of political empowerment. Gradually this too has become a source of conflict, more particularly when it comes to electing the pramukh (chief of Panchayat Samiti), and chairman (adhyaksh, i.e. chief of the zila parishad (district board). In the elections for these positions, quite often, money and muscle prevail. All these have resulted into identity-based rivalries. Moreover, the funds pouring in for rural development through the Panchayati Raj institutions has given boost to the hoodlums and criminals, who rise up the political ladder through these institutions.

This may explain the context why and how Owaisi decided to jump into the Bihar elections this year in 2015. It all began with the Azizpur riots of Muzaffarpur in north Bihar.
 
Immediately after the Azizpur riots, some necessary, though not adequate, action against the culprits of the violence was initiated. The video-footage of a local journalist Arun Srivastav provided the initial lead into investigations. It helped in identifying and nabbing the culprits of the violence. The government also provided a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the next surviving kin of each deceased; each injured got Rs 20,000; of the 56 houses of the village, there were 77 families; each of 77 got Rs 4700 for kitchen utensils, the government then assessed the total property loss and the compensation for the loss. Yet, some Muslim leaders and the leaders-in-making started playing the victim, and recurrent visits of these Muslim leaders also delivered inflammatory speeches alienating the Hindus who were cooperating with the police in punishing the rioters. Once these inflammatory speeches were delivered there was competitive incitements provided by Pravin Togadia’s visit that soon followed to Saraiya (Muzaffarpur).
 
There were attempts by some Muslim leaders to milk the tragedy. Outraged with these, certain segments of the liberal Muslims had to issue appeals for soul-searching within the community to marginalise and condemn the hoodlums, also called rangdaars or dalals. Subsequently, a Muslim aide to Jitan Manjhi, Syed Sharim Ali (who was appointed by the chief minister Manjhi as the Waqf Administrator), and Shahid Ali Khan, (who was the Minister for Minority Affairs in the Nitish cabinet), joined the Manjhi’s HAM-S. After the news of the Manjhi’s overtures towards the BJP started coming out, it was Syed Sharim Ali who flew to Hyderabad and had a long meeting with Asaduddin Owaisi. Some of the ‘activists’ and ‘intelligentsia’ of the Muslims who had made interventions for justice in the Azizpur riots are also close to Sharim Ali as well as to Akhtarul Iman.
 
Shahid Ali Khan contested from Sursand (in Sitamarhi), as HAM-S nominee, and Syed Sharim Ali contested from Belaganj (in Gaya district) as a nominee of the HAM-S. Akhtarul Iman, having burnt his boats with the RJD and JDU in 2014 chose to become the Bihar face of the AIMIM on whose ticket he contested from the Kochadaman Assembly seat of Kishanganj in 2015. This is how the people of Bihar rightly concluded that there did exist a BJP-Manjhi-Owaisi nexus in the Assembly elections 2015.
 
Local political dynamics mixed with growing competitive communalization of both Hindus and Muslims and the encouragement of and inducements to the local hoodlums/criminals of both the communities are the major factors behind recent resurgence of communal tension and violence across Bihar. Communal political forces may have been defeated at the electoral hustings overtly. But the process of communalization does continue. Sadly, this is contributed to immensely by the faults in the governance of those who vouch to be the greatest champions of secularism and social justice. As the left and socialist forces have given up on peasant radicalism, communal forces are making use of the ever swelling ranks of hoodlums. This remains one of the biggest problems of contemporary Bihar. It needs to be addressed immediately by civil rights activists, academic researchers and of course the state administration. The eventual beneficiary of communal politics can only be the overtly communal political parties.
 
(The author is associated with the Centre of Advanced Study in History Aligarh Muslim University. An expanded version is expected to be published soon]
 
 
[1] See my essay “Caste, Community and Crime: Explaining the Violence in Muzaffarpur” in Economic & Political Weekly, 31 January 2015

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