Bihar on the boil

Published : Jan 31, 2003 00:00 IST

A policeman in action during a bandh in Patna on January 3. - KRISHNA MURARI KISHAN/REUTERS

A policeman in action during a bandh in Patna on January 3. - KRISHNA MURARI KISHAN/REUTERS

The killing of three youth in a fake police encounter in Patna triggers sharp public and political reactions against the law and order situation in Bihar.

OPPOSITION parties in Bihar are up in arms against the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) government for the deteriorating law and order condition. The State is virtually caught in a vortex of anarchy following internecine killings by naxalite factions, abductions by mafia gangs, violent attacks by the private armies of the upper-caste groups and atrocities committed by the police.

Since December 28, when the police killed three youth at Ashiana Nagar in Patna in a "fake encounter", Bihar has been on the boil. The police justified the killings by saying that they were criminals. But later it was proved that the claimed `encounter' was nothing but cold-blooded murder. Preliminary investigations by senior officers of the Patna Police and the Crime Branch revealed that all the three youth - Vikash, Prashant and Himangshu - had no criminal record. In an about-turn, the Patna Police on December 30 filed a case of murder against its own officers. Senior Superintendent of Police Sunil Kumar confirmed having registered a first information report (FIR) against the unnamed police personnel.

Immediately after the killing, people blocked vehicular traffic on the major roads of Patna and threw stones at vehicles. The police fought a pitched battle with a rampaging mob and resorted to indiscriminate caning and lobbing of teargas shells.

According to eyewitness accounts, the genesis of the incident was a dispute over excess billing between a telephone booth owner and the victims. The booth owner happens to be a close relative of a police officer posted at the local Digha Police Station. On being convinced that its machine was faulty, they demanded the return of the extra money charged, a meagre sum of Rs.2. However, the booth operator refused to return the money and instead informed his relative in the police, who in turn alerted the police station. Within minutes some policemen and members of the Special Task Force reached the spot and shot the three youth at point-blank range. All the three were found to have bullet wounds on their temples. The police reportedly chased the people away from the locality before carrying out the murder. Eyewitnesses said that the police planted country pistols and cartridges at the spot after the killing in order to give the impression that the victims were dacoits.

Growing incidents of abduction, massacre and other forms of crime and police atrocities - such as the attack on a student leader when he joined a procession in Patna on December 31 against the `fake encounter', the massacre at Masaurhi on December 26, the abduction of The Hindustan Times photographer Ashok Karn on December 26, and the kidnapping of two doctors, one from Vaishali and the other from Rohtas, on December 23 - have evoked spontaneous reactions from various quarters. Political organisations took out processions, blocked roads, held dharnas and burnt effigies of Chief Minister Rabri Devi and her husband and RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav.

(Seven persons, including three women and three children belonging to two different families, were gunned down by the gangster Sunil Tiger alias Sunil Kranti in Barichak village under the Masaurhi police station, 40 km from Patna. The attack was allegedly carried out in retaliation for the arrest of a member of his gang. Ashok Karn was abducted by a criminal group from his ancestral village, Bele in Nalanda district, following a dispute over the sale of his land. He was, however, recovered unhurt by the police and taken to the Chief Minister Rabri Devi's residence by the Nalanda District Magistrate, Hukum Singh Meena, on December 28. Laloo Prasad Yadav said that the abductors had been identified and that they would be arrested soon.)

The Bharatiya Janata Party organised a bandh in Patna on December 31, which triggered large-scale violence. Several vehicles, including seven belonging to the government, were torched by mobs. Again, on January 3, a State-wide bandh called by all Opposition parties, including the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the CPI (Marxist-Leninist), the Indian Federal Democratic Party and the Lok Janshakti Party, besides the constituents of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), brought normal life to a halt. Railway services remained paralysed throughout the State as about 70 pairs of trains were cancelled. Bandh organisers clashed with the police and RJD supporters in several parts of the State.

The BJP, the Samata Party and other partners of the NDA have decided to intensify the agitation against the misrule of the RJD government and its police machinery. An NDA delegation met the Governor on January 6 to seek the immediate dismissal or resignation of the Rabri Devi government and also action against the police responsible for the fake encounter. BJP leader Sushil Modi said, "Jungle raj prevails in the State and corruption is at its peak. The government should be dismissed immediately.''

Samata Party spokesman Shambhu Srivastava said that his party would back the formation of two non-political fronts - Jana Chhatra Morcha and Yuva Chhatra Morcha - to continue the fight against the misrule of the RJD government. Srivastava urged the Congress(I) to withdraw its support to the RJD-led coalition in view of the sharp deterioration of law and order and the rising corruption in high places.

Aware that its silence on the police atrocities might expose the party, the Congress(I) Legislature Party (CLP) has decided to convince the high command that the prevailing situation warranted a review of its alliance with the RJD. It also urged the State government to file criminal cases against all policemen involved in the Ashiana Nagar `encounter'. CLP leader and State Minister Vijay Shankar Dubey left for Delhi on January 2 to apprise the party command of the situation. Most of the party legislators were of opinion that the party could not keep itself away from burning issues, and that as part of the ruling alliance it could not absolve itself of responsibility for the misdeeds. In such a situation, CLP leaders said that the CLP would like the coalition to act in a swift and transparent manner to restore public faith in it.

Meanwhile, a delegation of Congress(I) dissidents met the party high command in Delhi to demand the immediate removal of the State Congress(I) president Shakeel Ahmad for adopting a complacent attitude on the volatile political situation in the State.

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