Debating India

Another eventful year for Bihar

Saturday 1 January 2005

PATNA, DEC. 31. From jailbirds running their criminal activities from behind the bars, which drew the judiciary’s stinging criticism of the state government to hectic politicking which saw maverick RJD boss Lalu Prasad pull off a spectacular victory in the Lok Sabha elections - 2004 was yet another eventful year for Bihar.

The State steps into the New Year with the battlelines for another electoral bout—this time for the assembly—already drawn.

Mr. Prasad, in his bid to regain power, has already had a troublesome start with the Election Commission filing an FIR against him on bribery charges and several of his partymen for violating the model code of conduct ahead of a rally in Patna already cancelled.

Sewing up an alliance with Ramvilas Paswan’s LJP, which ultimately proved shortlived, the Congress, NCP and CPI(M), Lalu Prasad’s RJD inflicted a crushing defeat on NDA together pocketing 29 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar to share power at the Centre.

The NDA on the other hand, could manage to bag only 11 seats (BJP-five and JD(U)-six) as most of its stalwarts from Bihar lost.

Like earlier elections, widespread violence marred the three-phase poll prompting the Election Commission to countermand the election to Chapra parliamentary constituency on the recommendation of the two-member EC probe team headed by K.J. Rao, which found merit in BJP candidate Rajiv Pratap Rudy’s charge that the April 26 poll was rigged by RJD "goons".

Chapra went to re-poll on May 31 and RJD boss Lalu Prasad, who had also won the Madhepura seat, emerged victorious.

RJD’s alliance with LJP proved ephemeral and crumbled soon after as Lalu pipped Paswan in the face for the Railways portfolio.

As the acrimony having its roots in the bid for railways portfolio, deepened with time, the opposition NDA tried to kill two birds with one stone by seeking the resignation of both Lalu and Paswan for levelling serious corruption charges against one another.

The spat between the two Union Ministers became a major source of embarrassment for the UPA government with Paswan accusing Lalu of being "Chara Chor" (fodder thief) and the RJD chief retaliating by accusing the LJP leader of swindling money in the Rs. 800 crore crane purchase for the Railways during his stint as Railway Minister. Prime Minister Mammohan Singh had to advise him to exercise restraint.

Politically, the war of words between Prasad and Paswan reflects the growing turf battle ahead of the three-phased assembly polls next month which is likely to witness realignment of forces.

Paswan has repeatedly said his party would go it alone to oust RJD in the polls but is ready to join hands with Congress and Left parties which are unlikely to part company with Lalu Prasad.

The JD(U), a key constituent of NDA has made every effort to woo Paswan making it clear it is willing to join hands with him to dislodge RJD from power. To this, the LJP chief’s response was that he is willing to align with JD(U) if it snaps ties with BJP. It suffered acute embarassment when the then Governor M. Rama Jois touched off controversy at the official republic day function by slamming the government saying "fear and terror were uppermost in the minds of people of the state as a sense of insecurity had gripped them".

The controversy over jailbirds running their kidnapping and extortion racket rattled the government following the killing of noted surgeon N.K. Agarwal and his compounder by the dreaded Bindu Singh gang at his nursing home on Diwali night.

The killing triggered a Statewide strike by doctors from November 13 which paralysed health services for a week.

The strike was called off following the release of another medical practitioner Nagendra Prasad by his captors in Khagaria and the State government’s assurance to provide armed bodyguards to doctors. Controversial RJD MP from Madhepura Pappu Yadav was in the eye of a storm over his activities, including throwing a feast at Beur central jail in the State Capital while on bail, sneak visit to Madhepura while in judicial custody to campaign for Lalu and possession of a mobile phone while in prison.

So unhappy the Supreme Court, which had twice cancelled his bail granted by the Patna High Court, was with Pappu Yadav’s activities that it even asked the CBI as to which prison the jailed MP be sent inside or outside Bihar to stop him from violating all conceivable rules.

Though there was a spate of kidnappings of prominent businessmen and professionals, the government went into a tizzy following the abduction of General Manager T. Mandal and Chief Engineer K.K. Singh of the NHPC.

The two officials, abducted from Vaishali on November 19, were released by their kidnappers one by one. but not before giving some anxious moments to the state police and their Uttar Pradesh counterparts.

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