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Nitish's clock is ticking: has Jungle Raj returned to Bihar?

Catch Team | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 3:05 IST

The challenge

  • Two engineers were killed on 26 December, the latest in a number of criminal incidents in Bihar
  • This has fuelled allegations that Jungle Raj has returned to the state

The response

  • Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has given officials a free hand and demanded results
  • BJP is sparing no opportunity to target Kumar

More in the story

  • Who is behind the killings?
  • Is it too early to call this a return of Jungle Raj?
  • What steps is the government taking?

After the elation of a decisive victory, the flint reality.

Sparks flew at a meeting of top officials of the Bihar government with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on 28 December.

A visibly miffed Kumar gave the officials a dressing down at the meeting, which was part of a series of meets to chalk out strategy. When the bureaucrats wanted to show him their presentations, the Chief Minister told them he wanted concrete results, not more presentations.

"Who has stopped you from acting against the criminals? I have given you a free hand and yet you are doing nothing. I want nothing short of tangible results," he lambasted the officers. They had rarely seen the usually composed Kumar in such fury.

Kumar has reasons to be vexed. Look at these incidents:

  • Ankit Jha, a 42-year-old engineer who worked for a private company, was murdered. His body was found in Kashipur village in Vaishali on Tuesday, 29 December.

  • On 26 December, two engineers Mukesh Singh and Brajesh Singh were killed - using AK 47s - in Darbhanga.
  • In Muzzafarpur, Santosh Choudhary, a trader was shot dead outside his shop.

  • On Monday, Nawal Kishore Kushwaha, who worked as supervisor of a contractor working for National Thermal Power Corp, was shot dead in Bhagalpur.
  • Rahul Kumar, a kidnapped school student, was found dead in Samastipur. His family had received a Rs 15 lakh ransom call.

The Chief Minister has been personally reviewing every department after returning to power, chalking out road maps, making announcements on a war footing.

The CM seems insistent on sending out the message that he is the original 'Vikas Purush' of Bihar, no matter who he is aligned with.

The killings

But not everything is going his way and he got a big jolt on 26 December: That day Kumar and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav were busy discussing plans to construct roads across Bihar. While Kumar was issuing instructions to speed up work on the Arrah-Chhapra bridge, a compliant Yadav was assuring him that he would undertake the task of connecting every district to Patna through road.

Suddenly, news from Darbhanga changed the mood: Two unidentified bike riders had shot down a couple of engineers working on the Darbhanga-Samastipur-Rasiyari road project. This sent Kumar on a silent rage for the next two days, sources say.

Also read: Here's why Lalu-Rabri era is known as jungle-raj in Bihar

The national media didn't play the news up as the deceased were from Bihar, but the incident created ripples in Bihar.

Preliminary investigation points the needle of suspicion towards a gang run by jailed criminal Santosh Jha and his aide Mukesh Pathak.

"The gang of Santosh Jha was behind this. We have deployed the Special Task Force for prompt action and results will soon be visible," said PK Thakur, the director general of police.

Chadha & Chadha, the company that employed the engineers, stopped work, putting in jeopardy a the contruction of a Rs 725-crore, 123-km stretch of road.

The company's Bihar unit demanded three layers of security for its employees - at residence, at work as well as on their way to work.

"We will provide them security as they have asked for. We will meet them soon and plan their cover," Additional Director General of Police (headquarters) Sunil Kumar said.

The concerns are, of course, legitimate as it was no ordinary crime. But is it possible to provide such security cover? No, feels security expert Gyaneshwar. "It is not all about security. The incident is an outright failure of the state police."

Jha, a Naxalite-turned-extortionist, was arrested with Pathak in Ranchi in 2012. But he managed to walk free after some days as the police could not produce enough evidence against him despite several criminal cases pending against him.

He went on to expand his base from Bihar and Jharkhand to the Nepal border. Soon, Jha's empire spread to regions as far as Kolkata and Assam and he conveniently started calling the shots from Hong Kong.

Also read: Yes Lalu is back. But let's not worry about jungle raj

"Several aspects of the Darbhanga killings merit attention," Gyaneshwar says. "The company faced extortion threats for several months. The police provided them some token security, but they withdrew even that and the shooting happened just the next day. Why didn't the police act against this organized gang? Who informed the criminals that the security has been lifted?"

The modus operandi

Just 20 days ago the gang had shot from an AK-47 at a company supervisor working on a rural electrification project in northern Seohar district. The episode terrorised several construction companies in Sitamarhi, Shivhar, Motihari, Betia, Gopalganj and Muzaffarpur.

Analysts say the Darbhanga incident shouldn't be taken lightly as it points to the emergence of a pattern in crime in Bihar. The indiscriminate firing on the house of a reputed doctor in Sitamarhi last Sunday seems to corroborate this view point.

The Darbhanga killings may embolden the Jha gang. Inaction by the police will send a signal that it is futile to expect protection from the force. Companies may then return to their the old ways of compromising with the criminals to ensure safety. The incident may also encourage other gangs to unleash a new reign of terror in Bihar.

The political fallout

It remains to be seen what happens in the future. But a political battle has already ensued over the law-and-order situation. This is the biggest worry for Kumar.

He knows that every such incident would put his alliance with Lalu Prasad under question.

Opposition parties would raise the pitch on 'jungle raj' and blame him for political gains. Kumar is making every effort to prove that he is the tallest leader in Bihar politics. The one, who can ensure development, irrespective of his alliance partners.

However, such incidents have given BJP enough ammunition to counter this narrative. "We had forewarned people about the return of 'Jungle Raj', if Nitish is voted back to power. He might be the Chief Minister on paper but Lalu is holds the real power. The rise in such incidents is a manifestation of this reality, Now, the people are understanding what we meant" says BJP leader Giriraj Singh.

Also read: First high-profile abduction after Bihar polls: Is jungle-raj back?

Many Opposition leaders are speaking the same language. This has presented a new challenge before the CM. Kumar is now hyper active, like in his first tenure. People expect he won't leave any stone unturned to salvage the law-and-order situation. His chagrin at the 28 December meeting is being seen as a proof of the fact.

A seasoned politician like Kumar is aware of the changed political landscape of Bihar. He knows the BJP will use every opportunity to target him.

Kumar's track record

Gone are the days when his silence over the killings of six members of the minority community in Bhajanpura had gone unnoticed. The Opposition had even failed to highlight his government's apathy towards violence perpetrated in the streets of Patna during the funeral procession of Ranbir Sena supremo Brahmeshwar Mukhia. It was the time when BJP stood behind him. The Chief Minister knows much water has flown through the Ganga since then.

Kumar's track record evokes hope that he will pull the strings of his police department and prevent the situation from further deteriorating. He had made law-and-order his priority in 2005 and was successful in curbing the crime graph of the state.

As many as 50,000 criminal cases were registered during the first four years of his tenure. Many notorious criminals were cut to size. He had formed fast track court across the state to expedite criminal cases. His efforts were hailed across the country as 'Bihar Model'.

However, the law-and-order machinery has shown signs of fatigue over the years. The job of the police special task force has been reduced to providing security to the politicians. While an average 10,000-12,000 criminals were sentenced between 2008 and 2012 every year, the figure came down to 8,000 during last two years.

The crime incidents are surely on the rise in the state but it might be too early to declare the return of the 'Jungle Raj'.

First published: 30 December 2015, 1:39 IST