There is an age-old Hindi saying quite popular in the countryside: Tu daal-daal, main paat-paat, which explains one’s ability to stay ahead of the enemy.
Even as the Supreme Court’s recent ruling asking political parties to reveal and publish on media platforms details of their candidates with criminal records, promises to decriminalise Indian politics, Bihar politicians with criminal records have already found a way to circumvent such directions.
To get their way around guidelines, politicians in Bihar with criminal record are not contesting elections themselves, but are fielding their kin, which may include their mother, wife or brothers, to rule through a proxy. The method is currently being used by nearly a dozen politicians with criminal background. This has not only helped them keep the power within the family but also avoid action from the court or the Election Commission.
One politician who has extensively used this idea is Rashtriya janata Dal (RJD) president Lalu Prasad Yadav, who is currently serving time in Ranchi jail after his conviction in the multi-million dollar fodder scam. Of the total four fodder scam cases registered against him, he has been convicted in three so far while the hearing in the last case has reached the advanced stage.
Lalu Prasad first used this idea in July 1997, when he was the chief minister of Bihar. It was at that time that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) issued an arrest warrant in his name in the fodder scam case. When Lalu Prasad came to know that the CBI has sought the help of the Army to get him arrested, he quickly called a meeting of party legislators at his residence and transferred his powers to wife Rabri Devi, a housewife who until then had no connection with politics. This was soon followed by Rabri’s swearing-in at the Raj Bhawan which she had rushed wearing her bathroom slippers, such was the urgency. Lalu Prasad surrendered himself in the court after he was assured that there was no threat to the chief minister’s seat. But even while in jail, he was said to have ruled the state through his wife. This continued for the next eight years until the RJD was finally thrown out of power in the 2005 assembly elections.
Lalu Prasad implemented the same tactic for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. He stood disqualified from contesting elections following his first conviction in the fodder scam in October 2013 and needed someone to keep hold of his home Lok Sabha constituency of Chapra in which he had been contesting since 1977. This time again, he turned to his wife and fielded her from the Chapra seat (now known as Saran). She, however, lost the elections to BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy.
Blessing for ‘criminal’ politicians
But the idea stayed on. Currently, it is being used by at least eight leaders; a majority of them have been convicted in murder cases. Infamous musclemen Ranbir Yadav and Rajendra Yadav once used to be “honourable” members of the Bihar assembly, but after being sentenced to life in murder cases, they stand barred from contesting elections. As a replacement, both have got their wives elected to the Bihar assembly. While Ranbir’s wife Poonam Devi has been elected from Khagaria, Rajendra’s wife Kunti Devi is a legislator from Atari seat in Gaya district.
Another gangster Awadhesh Mandal who once headed a dreaded criminal gang named Faizan Party in eastern Bihar’s Purnia district had his wife Bima Bharti elected to the state assembly. Currently, she is the minister of the sugarcane industries department in the Nitish Kumar government. Another legislator Lesy Singh, wife of dreaded gangster Butan Singh who was killed in a gang war, has been elected from Dhamdaha seat.
The list doesn’t end here. Kavita Singh, wife of another gangster Ajay Singh has been elected to the Lok Sabha. She represents the Lok Sabha seat from Siwan which once was held by Mohammad Shahabuddin, now lodged in Delhi’s high-security Tihar jail. He has been convicted in at least four murder cases out of 40 in which he is an accused. Another Lok Sabha member from Sheohar, Rama Devi is the wife of gangster Brij Bihari Prasad. Brij Bihari who was a minister in the RJD government was killed in gang war. Likewise, murder convict Surajbhan Singh has got his younger brother Chandan Singh elected from the Nawada Lok Sabha seat. Before him, Surajbhan had got his wife Veena Devi elected from Munger.
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There are other who attempts to arrange tickets for their wives have failed. They include Mohammad Shahabuddin, Raj Ballabh Yadav and Anant Singh. Shahabuddin who represented the Siwan seat four times in the past fielded his wife Heena Shahab thrice from this seat, but failed in his mission. Raj Bhallabh fielded his wife Vibha Devi from Nawada Lok Sabha seat after being sentenced to life imprisonment in a rape case, but failed. Anand Singh too fielded his wife Neelan Devi from Munger seat and she too lost.
“Bihar politicians are smarter than the court. While the Supreme Court has given its ruling only recently, tainted politicians invented the idea a long time back to defuse any legal situations,” says political commentator DM Diwakar. He says it would have been better had the court barred ‘criminal’ politicians from filing nominations, rather than asking political parties to cite reason behind giving tickets to them.