The release of Mohammad Shahabuddin, former RJD MP from Siwan, on bail after 12 years of imprisonment may set the tone for new power equations in northwest Bihar, with the strongman now likely to become active in the RJD and regain his position as a mascot of minorities.
His bail period has not been specified. The state government can challenge the bail, but that does not seem likely right away since Lalu Prasad’s RJD is a major partner in the coalition government in the state, .
Shahabuddin’s release nine months after the formation of RJD –JD(U) –Congress coalition government in Bihar has sparked euphoria and aggression among his supporters in Siwan. The state administration is forced to take precautionary measures by deploying police force all along the seven districts that he crossed to reach Siwan from Bhagalpur on Saturday.
The force was deployed after the administration, in a late night meeting, on Friday took into account the likely issues of law and order. The enthusiasm of his supporters clearly indicates that the 50-year-old politician facing close to 32 cases of murder, extortion and kidnapping remains a demi-god on his home turf.
The original ‘bahubali’ symbolizing terror, especially in the mid- 90s and early 2000 when RJD was at the height of its powers, Shahabuddin was nominated vice-president by the RJD just five months ago. It clearly indicated his worth for the future of RJD which Prasad wants his sons to guide riding on Shahabuddin’s shoulders.
Shahabuddin’s bail came three months after he was shifted from Siwan jail to Bhagalpur central prison after one of his close aides Laddan Mian was arrested in connection with the murder of Hindustan scribe Rajdeo Ranjan. The former MP’s name was dragged into the case by the opposition, which charged him with conspiring in the murder after a photograph Ranjan took of the former MP having a chat inside the jail with minority affairs minister Abdul Ghafoor, went viral.
Ranjan’s murder is still under probe. Shahabuddin was shifted out of Siwan jail to Bhagalpur jail to ensure that the investigations are not hampered.
The episode of a minister calling on the former MP inside jail and the RJD top brass keeping quiet despite the opposition BJP’s protests was another instance that reinforced how Shahabuddin remains important for his party.
Shahabuddin’s clout has not diminished, and his support among minorities, which dominates the Siwan-Chapra and Gopalganj arc in north Bihar, makes him politically useful for RJD chief Lalu Prasad, who regained power in 2015 after 10 year in opposition.
Minorities in Siwan still regard Shahabuddin as a formidable figure who could stop the BJP in the area. The BJP won the Siwan parliamentary seat in 2009 and 2014 parliamentary polls.
“Shahabuddin holds big clout in as many as 35-40 assembly seats in north-west Bihar districts where Muslims vote could turn the scales towards any combination. In 2005, the RJD lost badly as the Muslim votes were scattered because of various factors, including Shahabuddin’s arrest. It happened in 2010 as well,” said former minister and relative of the former MP, Ejajul Haque.
The RJD was aware of this fact, the reason why the former MP was given a place in its national executive, the highest decision making body, prompting the BJP to call it a reflection of how Lalu still promotes musclemen.
Old timers recall how the former MP managed to put his own candidates from Muslim dominated seats at his own will and many times defied Lalu Prasad’s selections, arguing he commanded more support in the area and would ensure win of candidates of his choice.
Insiders say it was the Siwan strongman who had put his weight behind Darbhanga MP M A A Fatmi for his elevation as a union minister in UPA-I when RJD was an important ally.
With elections now far away, the former MP does not have a ready assignment for the RJD, but insiders say the party wishes to leverage Shahabuddin’s clout to salvage lost ground in north-west Bihar and Muslim dominated districts like Kisganganj and Katihar. The RJD clearly wants to be the dominant party in the state government.
It would also be interesting to see, whether the don asserts himself within his own party. The RJD’s coalition partner, the JD(U) led by chief minister Nitish Kumar has always maintained an arm’s length from the Shahabuddin, especially when he was in power with the BJP between 2005- 2013.
There are also speculations that the former MP could put pressure on the RJD chief to accommodate more Muslim ministers in the cabinet to consolidate the party’s base among minorities and could seek a berth in the state legislative council or Rajya Sabha for his wife, Hina Shahab.
“For the government, it would be a tough call to keep musclemen like Shahabuddin in check. If that does not happen, it would give the coalition government a bad name on the law and order front,” said a senior leader of the coalition on condition of anonymity.
The BJP’ senior leader, Sushil Kumar, Modi has accused the Bihar government of going soft on Shahabuddin to ensure bail for him.
“The release of Shahabuddin has brought back dark days to Bihar. Why has the government not imposed Crime Control Act (CCA) on the Siwan don as it did with Mokama strongman Anant Singh?” he said on Saturday.
Singh, a don and JD-U MLA of Mokama was arrested and sent to jail following killing of a Yadav boy earlier this year and CCA was imposed on him on August 6.
The RJD has rubbished Modi’s accusations stating that the “former MP has got bail from the court and the state had nothing to do with it”.
- 2004: Munna Choudhary abduction
- 2007: Firing at his native place Pratappur, Siwan
- 2006: Attack on police officer
- 2006: Attack on CPI-ML workers sitting on dharna at collectorate
- 2010: Surendra Patel murder case
- 2011: Attack on a village head
- 2007: Life sentence in Chhote Lal abduction case
- 2007: Two-year jail term in Keshav Baitha murder case
- 2008: 10-year sentence for keeping foreign pistol
- 2010: 10-year-setence for firing on then Siwan SP
- 2015: Life sentence in acid bath case, in which he got bail
- 1990: A bomb blast case and threat to a contractor
- 1997: Threat to a station house officer