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In Bihar, the gun's still there, but less in your face now

In Bihar, the gun's still there, but less in your face now

Author: Vandita Mishra
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: November 27, 2006

Not many buy DGP's claim that govt is the only bahubali, but fear factor's lower, docs too giving up pvt security

Belaganj borders Gaya town and stops just 30-odd lean short of Bodh Gaya which is famous, among other reasons, for being the one place in the state where the hum of generators, so characteristic of Bihar towns, is barely audible. In Bodh Gaya, they get that rare commodity - uninterrupted power supply.

But Belaganj is an Assembly constituency with a distinction all its own. The story goes that since 1971 it is represented by a bahubali, or strongman, except for one term in between. The bahubali phenomenon that sprawls across the state can trace some of its early beginnings, perhaps, right here in Belaganj.

These days, say local residents, there is something different about Surinder Yadav, the current RJD MLA earlier; he traveled with a retinue of cars and private security, "like a Governor". Now it is usually one vehicle and government security. Earlier, he made frequent and ostentatious visits to the villages in the block. Now he seldom comes, says Rampati Prasad, school teacher in Shilonja village.

"The difference is" says Shandilya, entrepreneur and journalist in Gaya, "when the bahubali travels now, the butt of the rifle no longer juts out from the window of his Bolero or Scorpio. The gun is still there but it is less in your face now".

Admittedly, the apparent mellowing of Surinder Yadav may hark back to another reason. In the last election, Yadav retained his seat but his party lost Bihar - a rival regime and a different caste combination is ensconced in Patna. But then again, that may not be the whole explanation.

For Abdul Qadir, who teaches in a Gaya college, change in Bihar is found on the road from the railway station into the town. This is the road on which the young NHAI engineer Satyendra Dubey was brutally killed in 2003 as he returned from Varanasi, for taking on the powerful road contractor lobby.

"All long distance trains pass through Gaya only in the wee hours. Earlier, people used to wait until dawn before venturing outside the station to go to their homes. New they take the-autorickshaw even in the dark".

Across the state, in faraway Darbhanga, where the smell of frying fish is strong in the congested lanes and by lanes, Priya Prakash, who works in a local hotel agrees that there is a change in the "mahaul" or climate. When a prominent businessman was murdered recently in the town, the killers were nabbed within a month, he says.

In Patna, Sachchidananda Kumar, secretary Indian Medical Association, hazards a figure: about 20 per cent doctors in Patna have given up their private security in the last year.

"What is more debilitating than the fact that crime happens is the apprehension that it will happen and go unpunished" says Abhayanand, Additional DGP, in Patna. He is one of the bureaucrats who had been sidelined by the previous regime and whose reinstatement to a key post is perceived as part of the state's change story.

With a doctor's calm, he outlines the challenge: to restore the citizen's trust in not just the police's will to fight crime, but in the government's as well, and then to raise those trust levels to encompass the state.

The legislature, executive and judiciary are all "stakeholders" in the criminal justice system, he says. They must be seen to come together on the same platform, like they did recently to participate in an October conference in Patna, addressed jointly by the chief minister and chief justice - a first in Bihar.

Abhayanand's concerns may sound esoteric, but his department is working to a pragmatic plan: from the vast backlog of cases, pick out those that are the easiest to carry to a conclusion. By Abhayanand's admission, these constitute only about 25 per cent of all cases, but their demonstration value may be more difficult to quantify.

Select the cases that fall under the Arms Act, for one. In such cases, only the evidence of the seizing authority, the police, is required. In other cases, get the police proactively engaged in rounding up witnesses - a change from the prevalent conception of the police's job ending with the filing of the chargesheet. Bring these cases to a "speedy trial", send out a message.

Official figures show that the conviction rate has gone up in the last year. From January 1 to October 30, 2006, there have been an unprecedented 3413 convictions under IPC and 1317 convictions under the Arms Act. But statistics frame no marked change in the incidence of crime over the last year. What may be more irrefutable is this: Sunil Pandey, sitting MLA JD(U), has been sent to jail in an extortion case.

"Where is the government in Bihar that doesn't have its own criminals? No political party in Bihar " that we will not give a ticket to people accused of dacoity, kidnapping or murder. But the police have more of a free hand to control crime now," says former DGP D P Ojha.

But the government, counter others, has only taken action against petty crime or rangdari, and is going after minor dons. "None of the big fish has been touched. And jail is a comfortable place for Bihar's political criminals", says Jagtananda Singh, former minister in the RJD government.

"If Nitish Kumar is sincere, why didn't he expel Sunil Pandey from JD (U) instead of just putting him in jail?" asks Nand Yishore Prasad, state secretary, CPML Sending the criminal to jail is a farce here, he points out.

Look at Rajan Tiwari. On November 15, the dreaded don and former MLA, now with Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP, was photographed having a haircut in a beauty parlor and making phone calls outside the high security Beur jail where he is supposedly incarcerated.

Many worry that change lies only in the eyes of the beholder. Or worse, it's a media creation. What has changed, they say, in the past year is this: the new government's long list of daily announcements of a "New Bihar" has crowded out the news of organised and petty crime from newspapers' front pages. "It is not crime that has become less conspicuous" says a Patna journalist, "only its coverage". For any real change, everyone cautions, wait and watch.

Bihar is a long way from becoming the place DGP Ashish Ranjan Sinha boasts it already is: "where the government is
the only bahubali".

For the moment, despite the riders and the qualifications, and the experienced cynicism, it is on law and order that Nitish Kumar seems to get the most benefit of the doubt from the people. His biggest challenge in the coming years will be to guard that precious asset and build on it.

-(With J P Yadav in Patna)

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