Siwan is back in the spotlight after the murder of senior journalist Rajdeo Ranjan.
The Bihar district, once referred to with reverence for being the birthplace of India’s first president Rajendra Prasad, lost its halo because its gun culture and later for the terror tactics unleashed by Mohammad Shahabuddin, a former Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MP serving a life sentence for the murder of two brothers, and his image as a ‘law unto himself’.
Ranjan, 42, the head of Hindi daily Hindustan in Siwan, was shot dead by unidentified men on Friday.
Two suspects, Upendra Kumar Singh and Shahzad Alam, were arrested for their involvement in the murder and remanded to 14-day judicial custody under the excise act on Sunday. Both are known associates of Shahabuddin.
Since 1990, the district has seen blood on the streets as the war for supremacy between Shahabuddin and his foremost political rival, Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation, lead to many deaths, including that of former JNU students’ union leader Chandrashekar.
Shahabuddin’s rise to infamy by instilling fear among commoners and political adversaries alike has long been a point of discussion. Old-timers still recall ‘how it was a strict no-no for any party opposed to the former MP to even put up posters in the town during elections till early 2000’.
The political equations turned against Shahabuddin, called “ Saheb” by his supporters, only in the 2005 assembly polls when for the first time the Bharatiya Janata Party-Janata Dal(United) alliance managed to win a good number of seats, including Siwan assembly segment.
The district later saw many criminal gangs, including one of Ajay Singh in Raghunathpur, springing up. Singh got his wife elected from a Siwan constituency a couple of years back on a JD(U) ticket.
Like Ranjan, a few other journalists have also fallen victim for writing against such ‘bahubalis’ or strongmen -including one Indramani Singh, who was killed in 1994, and Ravindra Prasad Verma shot at in the mid-90s. Shrikant Bharti, the press advisor of BJP MP Om Prakash Yadav, was shot dead last year.
“For a decade, there was peace. But the district seems to be slowly slipping back to the old days of fear and intimidation when it was not safe even to speak anything against the ruling political establishment or bahubalis,” a Siwan-based lawyer, who did not wish to be named, said.
The statement only reflects how Ranjan’s brutal death has sent shock waves in Siwan, one of the main commercial hubs of north Bihar catering to the demands of other districts like Gopalganj and East Champaran.
Locals say, gross unemployment and lack of land reforms in the area where a handful of landowners hold vast tracts of land are the reasons why a gun culture has evolved over the years with clashes common among haves and have-nots.
“Criminal gangs often play arbiters in settling land disputes and even petty cases. This was one factor which gave birth to the likes of Shahabuddin with political patronage,” a local journalist said.
He recalled how the then district magistrate CK Anil and superintendent of police Ratan Sanjay cracked down on the former RJD MP during the 2005 October polls, which was held under President’s rule.
Shahabuddin, who was lodged in the jail at that time, was externed from the district for a brief period on apprehensions that he could influence the polls but has managed to stay on in Siwan jail and not a central prison.
Siwan’s ‘don culture’ influenced public life too. In the mid-90s, Shahabuddin issued a diktat to doctors and lawyers to charge less from their clients, even fixing their rates. If that gave him a ‘Robin Hood-like’ image, the district saw a huge migration of professionals who left out of fear.
With lawlessness rising again, locals in Siwan feel the state government must crack down on criminals again. While the BJP has demanded a CBI probe into Ranjan’s murder, CPI-ML leaders also feel the same.
“The government must hand the probe to an independent agency as there is a suspicion that people associated with the government could be involved in the journalist’s murder,” Santosh, a senior leader of CPI-ML(Liberation), said.
As things stand, fear has once again gripped the people who have long experienced the ordeal of living under the shadow of the gun for many years in the past.