Nowadays Nitish Kumar and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are sworn enemies, but once they were very good chums. And this story has its origins in that era.
It shows how they waylaid an independent judicial probe into one of the worst Dalit mass killings spread over six years. A collaboration that unexpectedly returned to haunt them in the run-up to the assembly polls.
Ever heard of the Amir Das Commission? Chances are no. Time to brush up on it. It is likely to be in news for some time ahead of the polls political parties may invoke it to embarrass rivals, especially the BJP.
The commission was set up in 1997 to probe the said Bihar killings. Between 1994-2000, 144 people, including women and children, were killed for you-know-what—demanding their basic right to be treated with dignity and for supporting CPI(M-L)’s campaign.
At the heart of the probe was Ranvir Sena, an armed militia of upper caste landlords. It was formed by Bhumihar and Rajput landowners to suppress SCs and STs by violent means.
But, in 2005, even as the Commission was preparing to give its report when chief minister Nitish Kumar under pressure from BJP wound it up.
Ten years later, revelations have triggered calls for probe to e re-opened and perpetrators brought to justice. The revelations flow from a sting operation by the investigative portal Cobrapost in which six hardened Ranvir Sena “commanders” boasted about their involvement in the killings on camera.
They named local BJP supporters, including Brahameshwar Mukhiya, alleging him to have ‘masterminded’ the massacres.
In another revelation, Justice (retd) Das claimed his commission was scrapped as the report named several politicians including Murali Manohar Joshi, CP Thakur and Sushil Kumar Modi.
“It was closed without any or notice. I was asked not to submit the report. Nitish Kumar was the CM then and Sushil Kumar Modi was the deputy CM. Modi’s name cropped up along with many RSS leaders for involvement,” he told Cobrapost.
Lalu and Rabri Devi have a lot of explaining to do: why have they allowed so many gullible people to be killed on their watch. And then there’s Nitish Kumar. He was so keen to become CM that he showed no remorse in closing the Das inquiry. And when his alliance with the BJP collapsed, he didn’t revive the old inquiry.
Pappu Yadav, an RJD MP, knows where the bodies are buried, so to speak. And he is right when he says “both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav were involved in protecting the Ranvir Sena extremists”.
“We are shocked by the revelations…you have so far neither spoken out against the killers nor taken any action against them. Can such violence be tolerated in a democratic country? Unfortunately your lack of action gives a wrong message that Dalits and oppressed caste lives don’t matter in India,” says the letter signed by representatives of Dalit Solidarity Network; Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisation, UK; CasteWatchUK; Sri Guru Ravidass Global Organisation for Human Rights); and South Asia Solidarity Group.
The episode is symptomatic of Bihar’s cynical political culture. It is jokingly said “there’s politics and then there’s Bihar politics” which has reduced all political parties simply to a version of each other.