RJD chief Lalu Prasad was detained as party supporters brought Bihar to a crawl on Monday, stopping trains in tracks and vehicles on roads during a daylong bandh called to press for immediate release of caste census figures.
Educational institution and shops remained closed, attendance in offices was thin and most roads in the poll-bound state were deserted as the ruling Janata Dal (United), an ally of the RJD, supported the strike.
Thousands of lathi-wielding RJD supporters attacked vehicles and burnt tyre heaps to block some of the busiest streets in Patna as well as highways across the state, police said.
“Lalu Prasad was detained at the Dak Bungalow Crossing in Patna along with hundreds of party leaders, including legislators and former ministers and supporters,” an officer said. He was taken to a temporary camp at Bihar Military Police campus.
Before his detention, the RJD chief exhorted people from the mandal or backward classes to rise and uproot the kamandal or anti-backward classes, an oblique reference to the rival BJP.
“The bandh is a huge success. I have never seen such a bandh, except during the JP movement,” Prasad said after coming out of his residence riding a tamtam or horse carriage draped in his party colours and symbol.
The former Bihar chief minister also threatened to launch a bigger movement than the Mandal agiation of the 1990s if the Narendra Modi government failed to make public the caste-based census data without further delay.
Rail services were hit hard at several places as RJD workers squatted on tracks and halted several trains to enforce a statewide shutdown, East Central Railway CPRO Arvind Kumar Rajak said.
Lalu Prasad, while calling the Bihar bandh a few days ago, had asked his supporters not to disturb trains. His plea fell on deaf ears.
The Patna high court, however, sought a report from the Bihar government following an incident during which a judge’s vehicle was stopped by protesters in Patna. The court summoned the chief secretary to explain if the strike had the government’s support.
The BJP has clarified that the data would be released after rectification of errors in the statistics, including 1.75 lakh people in Bihar.
But the opposition alleged the government was holding back the new data because of political reasons. “We know the new caste census figures are very alarming. The population of SCs and STs has more than tripled since 1931 (when the last such census was conducted) and the BJP government is trying to suppress it so that it doesn’t have to give the poor their rightful due,” Prasad said at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan on Thursday during a hunger-strike.
(With inputs from agencies)