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A spate of protests

Print edition : Mar 18, 2000 T+T-

Supporters of Laloo Prasad Yadav unleashed their anger and muscle power across Bihar for three days after Nitish Kumar was sworn in.

THERE were large-scale disturbances in Bihar after Nitish Kumar assumed power on March 3. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) organised a bandh on March 5 to protest against the "illegal" swearing-in. Belligerent supporters of RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav unl eashed their fury and muscle power. Two persons died in police firing and train services were disrupted. Laloo Prasad was detained.

Immediately after the Governor's decision became known, hundreds of RJD activists, led by legislators Shivanand Tiwary and Jaiprakash Narayan Yadav, assembled in front of the Raj Bhavan. They scaled the gates and raised slogans such as: "NDA ka dalal Pande hosh mein aao. Pande wapas jao (NDA stooge Pande, come to your senses. Go back, Pande)".

They attacked a police van and threw stones into the Raj Bhavan complex before the Rapid Action Force dispersed them. The bureaucracy and the police hesitated to take stern action as they were not sure if the Nitish Kumar Government would survive. Beside s, several officers were loyal to the previous government.

For three days after the swearing-in, there were scenes of large-scale violence, street-fighting and arson across the State. At Jarua village in Vaishali district, bandh supporters attacked the police with stones, forcing them to open fire. One person di ed in the firing. At Maner, RJD supporters attacked the police. A post master, Bhagirath Rai, was killed in the crossfire. Some 3,000 persons were arrested on the day of the bandh. RJD leaders, including Laloo Prasad, Shivanand Tiwary, Ramai Ram, Jaiprak ash Narayan Yadav and Ramkripal Singh, and several Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation leaders courted arrest. The support of the CPI(M-L) Liberation, which is otherwise opposed to the RJD, came as a morale booster to the RJD.

The Railways bore the brunt of the protests. Cancellation of trains and diversion of routes owing to the agitation left thousands of passengers stranded in the Patna-Jhajha, Patna-Gaya, Patna-Calcutta and Patna-Delhi sectors under the Danapur division of the Eastern Railway. RJD supporters removed fishplates and uprooted tracks at many places. A mob ransacked the Tatanagar-Patna Express on March 5 and seized its engine. On the Baktiarpur-Rajgir section, RJD activists fled with the key of a locomotive. T he movement of at least 15 long-distance trains was affected. Road traffic came to a virtual halt.

Reports of dharnas and demonstrations and other forms of protest by the RJD and the Left parties came in from different parts of the State. The political temperature rose in the wake of RJD's bandh call. However, the common people did not seem concerned about the political developments and preferred not to get involved in the agitation.

Before courting arrest, Laloo Prasad said that the present phase of his movement was against the "illegal installation" of the NDA Government and that the next phase would seek the removal of the Governor, who, he alleged, had faithfully carried out inst ructions from New Delhi. The RJD had indicated the support of 161 legislators against the NDA's list of 146 MLAs, he said. He added that Nitish Kumar's resignation ahead of a confidence vote was another instance of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA "suc cumbing" to the strength of secular forces.

The battle for Bihar during the period between Nitish Kumar's swearing-in and his resignation was something of a cat-and-mouse game. The NDA was watchful about the movements of Congress(I) legislators and tried to win some of them over to its side. Laloo Prasad tried equally hard to keep Sonia Gandhi's flock together. The RJD and the NDA each claimed that it had won over more and more legislators even as denials of this claim flooded local newspaper offices. As the possibility of defections increased, s enior leaders of each party kept a close watch on their MLAs.

Joba Maylui, a legislator representing a small party in south Bihar, was allegedly locked up in another MLA's residence by NDA activists after some RJD workers tried to abduct her. Congress(I) legislators, the main target of the NDA, were under surveilla nce by the RJD, which was anxious to prevent any division in the party. At one stage NDA sources claimed that six Congress(I) MLAs had given letters of support to Nitish Kumar. The NDA also claimed that three Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) members were ready to back Nitish Kumar.

The Congress(I) leader in charge of the party's Bihar affairs, Mohsina Kidwai, faced a hostile crowd of partymen who were unhappy with the leadership's decision to support Laloo Prasad. The All India Congress Committee(I) arranged accommodation in a posh hotel in Patna for all the party MLAs to stay together. Laloo Prasad visited the hotel frequently to try and persuade the Congress(I) MLAs to stay with the RJD. Central intelligence personnel and RJD flying squads kept a watch on the hotel. "We are tire d of this," said a legislator from Ranchi who is a tribal person.

Laloo Prasad's aides maintained a continuous vigil to prevent desertion from the RJD ranks. The NDA sent feelers to two upper-caste legislators. The day before the trust vote, all RJD MLAs stayed at 1 Anne Marg, the official residence of Chief Minister R abri Devi, which she had refused to vacate after Nitish Kumar was sworn in. At least 200 cots were requisitioned and spread on the sprawling lawn, where the MLAs ate a special lunch and a dinner before spending a night there.