Siwan, Shahabuddin and the CPI(ML)

THE trajectory of the rise and growth of CPI-ML in Siwan has been quite similar to the Party's development elsewhere in Bihar, most notably in Bhojpur and other adjoining districts like Patna, Jahanabad, Arwal. The revolt of the most oppressed sections of the rural poor against the feudal gentry has been the basis on which the CPIML has grown in Bihar through sustained powerful struggles on the following key and interrelated questions: land redistribution, minimum wages, social/human dignity and political rights. While in Shahabad and Magadh regions the Party emerged and grew in the 1970s and early 1980s, when CPIML worked underground and Bihar was ruled mainly by the Congress but for the brief post-Emergency period of Karpoori Thakur and Ramsundar Das, in Siwan the Party began to rise in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when CPIML expanded through open mass struggles and Bihar witnessed the beginning of the political transition from protracted Congress rule to what has now turned out to be a protracted rule of Janata Dal, from its initial undivided period to the present coalition phase.

Darauli block in Siwan was the epicentre of the Party in the late 1980s and 1990s. Under the leadership of the CPIML, the landless poor and marginal peasants, belonging mostly to Dalit and backward castes, took on the well entrenched feudal power of the region, belonging mostly to the dominant Rajput caste. Bishwaniya Darbar of Darauli was a key citadel of this feudal power led by landlord Mrityunjay Singh and his henchman Prabhunath Singh. Shambhu Singh of Kishunpali, Govind Singh of Gauri, Vinod Dubey of Beltanri were some other dreaded symbols of the feudal-criminal nexus. In the 1990 elections to Bihar Assembly when Shahabuddin secured his first electoral victory as an independent MLA from Zeeradei segment, Comrade Amaranth Yadav also emerged as a powerful popular candidate of the Indian People's Front, the CPIML-led mass political platform that sent Rameshwar Prasad as the first MP of the ML movement from Arrah in 1989 and as many as 7 MLAs to Bihar Assembly in 1990. The feudal forces tried their best to prevent the rise of the IPF/CPIML, while Danwar-Bihta village of Bhojpur witnessed a barbaric massacre of Dalits who had dared to resist booth-capturing and exercise the universal adult franchise guaranteed by the Constitution, Siwan too was witness to the killing of IPF activist Nand Kishore Yadav in the course of Com. Amar Yadav's election campaign.

Feudal violence could not however stop the onward march of CPIML. In 1995, Bhojpur saw CPI-ML leaders Ram Naresh Ram, one of the legendary architects of the Communist movement in Bihar and a Polit Bureau member of CPIML, and former IPF MP Rameshwar Prasad, win from Sahar and Sandesh, and Siwan witnessed the CPIML emerge victorious in Darauli and Mairwa. While Shahabuddin had by now joined the Janata Dal and retained the Zeeradei seat, the adjoining seats of Darauli and Mairwa were represented in the Assembly by CPIML leaders Amaranth Yadav and Satyadeo Ram. In 1996, Shahabuddin became the RJD MP from Siwan while the CPIML finished an impressive third polling more than 100,000 votes. Shahabuddin's rise as a don or as a kingpin of the crime-politics nexus or syndicate begins at this point and elimination of political rivals becomes a key tactic. The killing of popular student leader and former JNUSU President Comrade Chandrasekhar is widely known as the biggest political killing in the region, but nearly a dozen district-level leaders of the CPIML have been killed in Siwan and Gopalganj. Martyrs like Comrades Vyas Pratap Singh, Umesh Paswan, Surendra Yadav, Shyamnarain Yadav, Suresh Ram, Rajkumar are all fondly remembered alongside Comrade Chandrasekhar in Siwan and Gopalganj. Indeed, when Chandrasekhar was killed at Siwan’s JP chowk in broad daylight on 31 March 1997, addressing a street corner meeting in support of a Bihar bandh agitation on 2 April against corruption, price-rise, and attacks on Dalits and oppressed castes by the Ranveer Sena. Comrade Shyamnarain Yadav, who was an emerging young leader of Siwan and a member of the District Committee of the Party, was also there and both became martyrs along with Bhuteli Miyan who was pulling the rickshaw carrying the microphone for the meeting.

Comrade Chandrasekhar had just returned to Siwan, his home district, to work for the Party after leading and representing the students of JNU for years. He shared very close ties with his mother Kaushalya Devi, having lost his father, who served in the army, as a child. In one of his letters written to his mother, Chandu described her as the Mother in Gorky's immortal creation. And after Chandu's assassination, Kaushalyaji indeed played the role of a fighter mother who not only sought justice for her beloved son, spurning the compensation offered by the government of the day with the contempt it deserved, but more crucially, inspiring all friends and comrades of Chandu as though they were all her children for as long as she lived, a role that Radhika Vemula today plays in the battle for justice for Rohith.

Chandrasekhar's assassination galvanized the student community and justice-loving people across the country and especially in Siwan against the growing criminalization of politics under the RJD rule in Bihar. Another significant local development of this period was the rift in the RJD's own fabled electoral equation of M-Y. The growing terror and arrogance of Shahabuddin alienated large sections of the Yadav community in Siwan. The cumulative effect of the movement for justice for Chandrasekhar and Shyamnarain Yadav and the growing anger of the people against the state-sponsored reign of terror of Shahabuddin could be seen in the 1999 Lok Sabha election when a wave of support and goodwill for CPIML candidate Amar Yadav almost unseated Shahabuddin despite all his terror and administrative backing. If Shahabuddin managed to retain his seat despite this huge electoral revolt, the secret lay in the support extended by the feudal lobby of Siwan. This open secret known to political observers in Siwan has now been acknowledged by Shahabuddin himself who claims to have provided a 'political umbrella' to the feudal lobby in Siwan, but laments the fact that his 'upper caste' voters migrated to the BJP after his arrest.

The Islamophobic discourse prefers to zero in on Shahabuddin as a near-exclusive case of criminal-politician nexus or criminalization of politics. But even a cursory glance at the contemporary political scene of Bihar will show us that Shahabuddin has serious competition or company among a whole lot of his kind. If one talks about just the Chhapra-Siwan-Gopalganj region, the common people there know that there is little to distinguish between a Shahabuddin and a Satish Pandey (Chhattis Pandey in local parlance) or a Prabhunath Singh for that matter. And across the border in UP, one has the likes of Yogi Adityanath where crime in politics is compounded with communal venom. Similarly, Shahabuddin is not alone when it comes to impunity enjoyed by the powerful. The impunity enjoyed by the likes of Kodnani and her bosses in Gujarat or the commanders of Ranveer Sena as revealed by the Cobrapost video is no different from the impunity enjoyed by Shahabuddin. The skewed nature of the justice and prison system that grants bail to Shahabuddin also grants repeated parole to Sanjay Dutt while convicting communist leaders in Bihar like Shah Chand to life sentence under TADA and condemning him to die in jail. It is the same system which acquits the perpetrators of horrific massacres of rural poor and communal riots while hanging the likes of Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon merely in the name of circumstantial evidence or even satisfying the 'collective conscience' of the nation.

Today when Shahabuddin is granted bail, which is now under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court, CPIML MLA from Darauli and president of the Bihar unit of All India Agricultural and Rural Labour Association Comrade Satyadeo Ram remains in jail along with the national President of Revolutionary Youth Association Comrade Amarjeet Kushwaha, who lost narrowly from Zeeradei in the 2010 and 2015 elections to Bihar Assembly, languish in jail falsely implicated by the former BJP MLA from Darauli. The parameters of justice cannot be different for the ruling and opposition parties in a democracy. And even if the system is skewed, the battle for justice has to be consistent and cannot be selective.

Shahabuddin Admits to Feudal Backing Against CPIML

Vandita Mishra, journalist with the Indian Express (‘Meeting Mohammad Shahabuddin: What his release means in a Bihar trying to find its feet’, Indian Express, September 18, 2016) writes that “Though there are stories of his patronage and largesse to the poor, Siwan’s “Saheb” was known to thrive on the support of the region’s landed castes, who propped him up to help them in their fight against the CPI (ML).”

In conversation with her, Shahabuddin himself said, “In those days, those whom the CPI(ML) called feudal were with me and the RJD government. At that time, there were only two sides. I gave a political umbrella to those upper castes in Siwan who have now migrated to the BJP.”

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