Python, murder & high drama: arresting don Anant Singh could harm Nitish
- JD(U) MLA Anant Singh was arrested on 24 June. This could have significant political consequences.
- Singh, a don, is known for his feudal theatrics. He keeps a python and rides in a private buggy.
- He had abused former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi and enjoyed the patronage of CM Nitish Kumar.
- Caste calculation behind Singh\'s arrest: he is a Bhumihar accused of murdering a Yadav youth.
- The arrest is reportedly at the behest of RJD chief Lalu Prasad, who wants to appease his Yadav votebank.
- Apparently the SSP was replaced to ensure Singh is arrested by a Bhumihar officer, to contain caste rage.
- It has sent the signal that Lalu is calling the shots in JD(U)-RJD alliance.
- This might make some of Nitish supporters shift to the BJP.
Anant Singh is not just another don from the badlands of Bihar. He is a sitting MLA from the ruling Janata Dal (United) with close to 40 criminal cases against him.
His arrest on 24 June is also not just an ordinary arrest. It has the potential of turning into a major watershed event in the run up to the Assembly polls in Bihar.
It defies logic to claim, as some have, that the JD(U) MLA's dramatic arrest in Patna is a major achievement of the Nitish Kumar government. This is Singh's third term as MLA and he has faced several criminal allegations throughout this period.
The maverick don
Well-known to have enjoyed patronage of the chief minister, he was often referred to as 'Chhote Sarkar' in the state.
Singh is known across the state for his excesses as well as for his feudal theatrics. He has been in the headlines before for things like roaming the streets of Patna in his private buggy, for keeping a python at his residence with a special air-conditioned enclosure for it, for wearing a tiger-skin jacket and, earlier this year, for openly abusing and threatening then chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi.
No action was taken against him then.
He is also believed to have threatened all anti-Nitish MLAs inside the state Assembly when Nitish Kumar was on the verge of seeking a trust-vote.
Singh has been in the news for many other controversies. In 2007, he allegedly held journalists captive at his official residence. They had apparently dared to ask questions about his suspected involved in a rape and murder case.
Why has he been arrested now?
His arrest towards the fag end of his tenure as well as that of the JD(U) government is not a testimony to Nitish Kumar's commitment to the rule of law. It speaks for the importance of cold caste-arithmetic in the run up to the Bihar assembly polls.
Anant Singh is a Bhumihar and he is accused of murdering a Yadav youngster.
Sources point out that Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo, and Nitish Kumar's new ally Lalu Prasad was behind this arrest. As the murdered youth was from the Yadav community, Lalu Prasad had to show solidarity with his caste group. His core vote-base is already splintered between his party, the RJD and the BJP and RJD's expelled MP Pappu Yadav.
Pappu Yadav had beaten Lalu in expressing sympathy and showing solidarity with the murdered youth's family. He had already reached the victim's village and assured his family of help in getting them justice by pressuring the state government.
Where Pappu made his move, Lalu immediately saw a threat.
He quickly sent a fact-finding team that came back and dropped Anant Singh's name. Lalu also announced a help of Rs 2 lakh for the victim's family from his party-funds.
The high drama surrounding Anant Singh's arrest from his palatial residence in Patna on 24 June was well publicised. An unusually large police team with commandos, as well as divers to search his private pond, went to arrest him. The police also encircled his residential compound.
Policemen were shown physically pinning down Singh's security guards in photographs published in newspapers. He was produced at a magistrate's residence late in the night for securing immediate judicial custody. The entire event was carefully orchestrated for the media.
When Nitish was forced to let go of his patronage of Singh, it sent the signal that Lalu is calling the shots
Patna newspapers carried multiple photographs of the entire operation the next day, suggesting that press photographers were informed of the impending arrest in advance. The state government clearly wanted due publicity for the event.
So dominant was caste-arithmetic in this episode that sources say the top policeman - the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) who led the operation was selected keeping caste in mind. In fact, the SSP in Patna was changed just a day before this operation.
It is being speculated that outgoing SSP Jitendra Rana was replaced with Vikas Vaibhav as the latter is from the Bhumihar community, the community to which Anant Singh also belongs. The idea was that one Bhumihar arresting another Bhumihar would contain the damage caused by the arrest and that this would limit the damage to the relationship of the community with the ruling party.
Is Lalu Prasad calling the shots?
While the incident may help Lalu in his efforts at consolidating his Yadav vote-base, it has done significant damage to Nitish Kumar. Not only was the chief minister forced to let go of his patronage for a Bahubali MLA, but signal has gone out that it is Lalu Yadav who calls the shots in the JD(U)-RJD alliance.
This could reduce Nitish Kumar's bargaining position in the ongoing seat-sharing talks and perhaps give Lalu the upper hand.
The public resentment against the Lalu-Rabri rule was the reason why Nitish Kumar got resounding electoral mandates in 2005 and 2010. Nitish Kumar's voters, already said to be upset with him joining hands with Lalu Prasad, may be further disheartened to see him emerge as the weaker partner in this alliance.
This may endanger the electoral prospects of the JD (U)-RJD alliance and make some of Nitish Kumar's voters shift to the BJP.
There is already much resentment in the cadres of both parties against this alliance. It is also evidently causing visible damage. Former MP and senior JD(U) leader, Ranjan Yadav left the party yesterday, saying the alliance was not acceptable to him.
As Anant Singh cools his heels in Patna's Beur Jail, although in a VIP cell because of his membership of the Legislative Assembly, the progress of his case will be monitored carefully by the public at large. However, watch out for how this incident impacts the seat-sharing talks between the JD(U) and the RJD.