In May, well-known Gaya-based doctor Pankaj Gupta and his wife went missing while on their way home from Jharkhand. They surfaced six days later in Uttar Pradesh, allegedly freed after paying a ransom to a gang that had abducted them from Bihar.
Earlier in the year, a close relative of the Siwan district magistrate, mineral contractor Ravi Ranjan Singh, was also reportedly kidnapped and later released after allegedly paying a ransom of Rs 40 lakh.
In both cases, the police said they had secured the release of the victims, but in a state where kidnapping for ransom is almost an industry people doubted much of those claims.
As Bihar heads for assembly polls later this year, the debate has once again veered round to the state’s dubious record as a crime haven, with opposition political parties stepping up their tirade against the ruling Janata Dal (United) for an allegedly deteriorating law and order situation.
Although Bihar ranks only eighth among all states for the number of cognisable crime recorded in 2014, many say the increase in crime rate in the state over the past few years has been significant.
According to state police data, Bihar witnessed a rise of 15% in crimes in 2013 and more than five% last year. It’s a phenomenon that may partially be because of increased reporting, but many state police officers complain of a rise in political interference in law enforcement that may have helped embolden criminals.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his recent visit to the state, described Bihar’s law and order situation as “jungle raj” and added that chief minister Nitish Kumar’s alliance with RJD chief Laloo Prasad will only deteriorate the situation.
The BJP’s state spokesperson Nandkishore Yadav told Hindustan Times that criminals have been emboldened by Nitish Kumar’s compromise on principles to cling on to power.
However, JD-U ally, RJD, blamed the BJP of trying to project the government in a bad light.
“The BJP has been trying to malign the Nitish government ever since their alliance broke up. They don’t have any better issue to flag. The BJP is trying to get political mileage over every criminal activity in the state but they are also behind most of these crimes,” said Mrityunjay Tiwari, the RJD’s state spokesperson.
The ruling JD-U’s spokesperson KC Tyagi said, “I may not be able to refute the sudden rise in crime but Nitish Kumar has a zero tolerance towards criminal activities.”
A section of police officials, however, said political interference has increased of late, creating problems for the force.
“Things were fine before the alliance in 2014, but now even normal police work is affected. Often, when we capture a criminal, a political leader or his musclemen arrive at our police station within hours and we are told that the leader will ‘manage’ the case,” a police official posted in Darbhanga said on condition of anonymity because he feared persecution for speaking to the media.
“It feels like Lalu’s earlier days, we have become the puppets of politicians. With Lalu being in alliance with the ruling party, criminals have been emboldened.”
When contacted for his comments, the police chief of Gaya, Manu Maharaj, denied that the Nitish-Lalu alliance had affected police functioning.
But social scientist Shaibal Gupta felt that despite Lalu Prasad “reinventing himself”, it was unlikely that Bihar will turn into a lawless state.
“The problem is that Bihar never had a functioning state structure. But Nitish resurrected it. After 10 years of his reign, it will be difficult to revert to the lawless state of affairs,” said Gupta, head of the NGO, Asian Development Research Institute in Patna.
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