Wednesday, June 25, 2008




By Manuwant Choudhary

Surajbhan Singh, a Member of the Indian Parliament from the Lok Jan Shakti Party, is convicted for murdering Rami Singh, resident of Mathurapur, on January 16 1992. Held guilty by the Begusarai court Suraj Bhan gets a life term after 16 years of committing the crime.
And this judgement comes because it is being tried by a `fast' track court.
However, such is the crime scene in Bihar that last November the public prosecutor in the case Ram Naresh Sharma was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen at his residence, some allege he was murdered at the direction of Suraj Bhan Singh.
Suraj Bhan Singh's journey from the badlands of Bihar to the Indian parliament is the real story but for the people in Bihar he is just a terror.
Todays Times of India reports how this verdict indicates the weakining of the criminal-politician nexus when it should instead be reporting how criminals in Bihar have become politicians. Who are the leaders and which parties have promoted criminals into politics and once they join rival parties then they use the long arm of the law to place them in prison.
One Mokameh resident told me that Suraj Bhan was an ordinary person herding his buffaloes in the countryside and his entry into the crime world was due to a few murders but then there was no looking back.
He evaded arrest for many years and finaly surrendered. Journalists in Patna said he surrendered only because he had a health problem and wanted treatment under full state protection, which he got.
My encounter with Suraj Bhan happened when I joined NDTV in 1999.
There were assembly elections due and I was assigned to interview a dreaded criminal Rama Singh in Hajipur jail who was contesting the elections.
But whe I arrived at the jail the prison superintendant was sitting at his residence. When I asked him for permission to interview Rama Singh I was told only the District Magistrate could give the permission. But Laloo Yadav was in town and the DM `saheb' was busy chasing the leader.
So I went to an open prison window and asked a person that I want to meet Rama Singhji. He said, "Aur Munnaji se nahin mileyega'. (Would you not want to meet Munnaji?
I had not heard of Munnaji but I asked him whether Munnaji too was contesting the elections. And I was told he was. So I said I would meet Munnaji too.
Soon my name was sent on a slip and word came that I be allowed to enter the prison.
Inside weak jail staff put the customary stamp on my hand and the I was led into the jail superintendants office.
A man in white trousers and T shirt and sports shoes with legs on the table, talking on the cellphone and smoking gestured me towards a chair.
"Main Munna hoon".
Munna Shukla, charged with murdering a Bihar minister Brij Behari Prasad.
A full interview and then hesitatingly I asked him that I wanted to meet Rama Singh too.
He replied, "Haan mere bade bhai is standing behind you." My big brother is standing behind you.
A man in kurta-pyjama and bandi was standing behind with folded hands smiling.
I interviewed Rama Singh too.
Both won the elections.
Its that election that had made another criminal enter Indian politics - Suraj Bhan Singh.
He was in Beur jail along with another criminal MLA Rajan Tewari.
As I approached the window where the duo were standing in front of their supporters, I asked them to put colour on their faces as I wanted a photo opportunity. There was a deathly silence.
I then realised that Suraj Bhan was the `Bhaiji' (Big Brother) and how could a Rajan Terwari apply `abeer' (powdered colour) on him.
But suddently Suraj Bhan's big rough hands with full colours reached out and was about to apply colour onto my face.
I stepped back.
Only to hear disapprovals from his supporters behind me. Arre bhaiyyaji se abeer to lagwana hee padega they threatened.
I took the middle path, because I still wanted the interview without offending the sensibilities of the crime king.
So I asked Suraj Bhan to apply a tika on my forhead but nothing more as I am against the practice of playing with colour.
He understood.
My interview was over but I never forgot this man in Beur jail. His face was rough, somone whom you would get scared of if you saw him at night. But more than that for me he represented the ugly face of Indian democracy.
How could such people get elected?
When I followed this man I realsed he could never have won an election without the support of Nitish Kumar's Samata Party, which chose not to field a candidate against Suraj Bhan.
And once elected Suraj Bhan returned the favour - he supported the Nitish Kumar government for the seven days it lasted.
Nitish then as union railway minister gave Suraj Bhan and his men big railway contracts. Money means power and Nitish clearly knows that.
Of course, Laloo Prasad is also a patron of criminals enetering politics in Bihar. Laloo's man in the region was Dilip Singh and some say Nitish chose Suraj Bhan to defeat Laloo's goons.
But now Dilip Singh's brother Anant Singh is a bigger terror and he is with Nitish.
All this is very confusing but in Bihar just as one doesn't know anything if one cannot understand caste, it is equally important to know which criminal is on whose side.
Anant Singh recently attacked journalists and NDTV reporter Prakash Singh was brutally assaulted and held captive for daring to ask him for an uncomfortable interview.
And Anant Singh continues to get state patronage and protection.
Some say that in most of the cases against him no witnesses have dared testify against him.
Bihar's major politicians Laloo, Nitish and Ram Vilas Paswan all believe in promoting criminals into politics. As for the communists the less said the better.
If Guantanamo Bay prison is infamous for cruelty to prisoners Patna's Beur jail can be an example of what prisons can become when the state has disappeared.
Prisoners here generally decide whether they want to eat out, visit home or even stay at the Patna Medical College Hospital.
And they even organise dance shows at the hospital in full media presence.
In Bihar prisoners stay there out of their own will.
Even when the maoists stormed the Jehanabad prison and `rescued' hundreds of their colleagues, a majority chose to stay back.
Recently, the main accused Uday Choudhary in the IIT engineer Satyendra Dubey murder case `escaped', for a second time, from police custody in a Patna court. He is still traceless.
The first time Nitish became chief minister in the seven days the only file he signed on was to release a massacre accused on probate. The man never returned.
And a few days ago a Block Development Officer Arvind Kumar Mishra was killed at his official residence. His anguished wife Puja had just this to say, "Nothing has changed in Bihar."


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