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The Hindu
The Hindu
Amit Bhelari

In Bihar, upper caste outreach in a don’s release

While don-turned-politician Anand Mohan quietly exited Saharsa jail in the early hours of April 27, his supporters across the entire district celebrated with chants of ‘ Jail ka tala toot gaya, sher hamara chhut gaya (The jail lock is broken, our lion is free)’. The former MP and MLA had served over 15 years in jail after being convicted in the case of murder of G. Krishnaiah, the then District Magistrate of Gopalganj in 1994. It was to avenge the killing of a criminal by the police that a mob owing allegiance to Mohan lynched Krishnaiah, a Scheduled Caste IAS officer. The release came about after the Bihar Home Department tweaked the jail manual, lifting a bar on those who had killed a public servant on duty from remission.

Much of the credit for the release is being given to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. As early as January 23, during a function to honour Rajput king Maharana Pratap at Patna’s Miller High School, Mr. Kumar had responded to shouts from the audience demanding Mohan’s release saying he was already on the job. There is a political imperative behind Mohan, who is known as ‘Sher-e-Bihar,’ being set free: the upper caste, or more precisely the Rajput, vote.

An attempt to cause a dent

Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections next year, Mr. Kumar’s Janata (Dal) United or JD(U) is trying hard to cause a dent in the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s upper caste vote base so as to offset the fact that a chunk of the Extremely Backward Class and Other Backward Class communities are leaning towards the saffron party.

Mohan is a product of the undivided Janata Dal when Mr. Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad were together. He first became MLA in 1990. Later, he parted ways with Mr. Prasad, who was known as the messiah of the Mandal era, and formed his own political party, the Bihar People’s Party. However, he enjoys cordial ties with both the JD(U) and RJD.

JD(U) sources insist it was their party chief who was more eager than RJD leader and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Prasad Yadav on facilitating the release. The RJD gave a ticket to Mohan’s son Chetan Anand, who is currently an MLA from Sheohar seat. Mohan’s wife Lovely Anand, who had earlier represented the Vaishali Lok Sabha seat in 1994, is a member of the RJD too.

Editorial | Political remission: on the Bihar government’s decision and the Anand Mohan Singh case 

Mohan’s release is likely to help the JD(U) in a few pockets of the State including Saharsa, Sheohar, Sitamarhi and other regions of Mithilanchal where the Rajputs are in sizeable numbers. Patna-based political analyst Sanjay Kumar calls it a “masterstroke” on the Chief Minister’s part, pointing out that the BJP seems confused over the issue: while senior party leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi opposed the release, Union Minister Giriraj Singh and MP Rajiv Pratap Rudy welcomed the decision.

A section of Rajputs is already aligned with the ruling alliance due to former Union Minister, the late Raghuvansh Prasad Singh’s long association with the RJD; the party’s current State unit chief Jagdanand Singh also belongs to the community.

A ripple effect?

Mr. Kumar’s ‘benevolence’ towards a Rajput is also expected to have a ripple effect among the Bhumihars, another upper caste group which already finds good representation within the JD(U) ranks — national party chief Lalan Singh and Finance Minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary are examples. “Nitish Kumar has not only targeted the Rajput vote bank among the upper castes but the Bhumihar vote bank as well,” says Dr. Sanjay Kumar.

Meanwhile, as news of Mohan’s release hit the national headlines and the Supreme Court agreed to hear on May 8 a petition filed by Krishnaiah’s wife challenging the Bihar government’s decision, Mohan has maintained distance from the media. His son Chetan’s wedding is scheduled to be held in Dehradun today. Sources say only close family friends have been invited. The Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister had attended the engagement ceremony of Mr. Chetan on April 24.

The premature release has opened a Pandora’s box for the Nitish Kumar government with its ally, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), demanding that prisoners arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act be released as well. However, in Mr. Kumar’s book, the gains from Mohan’s release outweigh any adverse fallouts.

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