Bihar's politics is once again on the boil following the sensational murder of Ranvir Sena chief Brahmeshwar Singh, which has the potential to push the state back to the days when caste wars and massacres used to make news on a daily basis. Brahmehswar's killing on June 1 near his house in Khopira village of Nawada police station in Bihar's Bhojpur district was followed by violence and arson by his supporters in Arrah and Patna, sending shivers down the spines of those who had been singing paeans about the state's improved law and order.
Ranvir Sena was a terror in central and southern Bihar during the 1990s when Brahmeshwar's gang of heavily armed men routinely carried out the massacre of the landless, who were mostly Dalits supported by the Maoists. The Sena was formed by the land owning caste of Bhumihars to take on the well-armed Maoists and Brahmeshwar, popularly known as Mukhiyaji, was its hatchet man.
His killing has led to fears of another round of caste wars in the state and as his supporters went on a rampage, it added credence to the theory that Bihar can never get rid of its caste-based politics. His supporters have alleged that Brahmeshwar was killed by the Maoists to avenge the massacres carried out by Ranvir Sena.
Caste wars of Bihar also have a class angle to it with the landlords on one side and the landless peasantry on the other. While the former was supported by its own private militias, the landless labourer took the help of the Maoists.
In the 1990s the Maoists in Bihar belonged to primarily two major groups – CPI (Marxist-Leninist) (Party Unity) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), and they were involved in internecine class and caste wars with the private armies of the landlords in several districts of the state.
With deteriorating law and order, prevalent environment of corruption and lack of development under the Lalu-Rabri regime, the private armies as well as the Maoists found a fertile ground to grow.
Caste wars, massacres and mindless killings were the norm with neither the private armies most noticeably the Ranvir Sena, nor the Maoists ready to back off from any confrontation. Their existence was in no small measure helped by a pliant government and a demoralised and ill-equipped police force.
As the Lalu–Rabri regime tuned a blind eye towards the deteriorating law and order and caste wars, the conflict took monstrous proportions. Ranvir Sena also enjoyed political patronage from the some parties and prominent leaders, severely hampering the state agencies from taking a strong action against it.
But when Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) in alliance with the BJP took over as the Chief Minister of Bihar after ending the 15-year long Lalu-Rabri rule, caste wars declined. Slowly the private militias disappeared or went underground even as the Maoist groups came under one umbrella.
Nitish Kumar got the credit for the vastly improved law and order in Bihar, and the almost complete absence of caste conflicts and massacres although Brahmeshwar had already been arrested in 2002 in Patna.
The Ranvi Sena chief spent almost nine years in jail and was released on bail in 2011. In April 2012, he got a huge reprieve when the Patna High Court ruled that Brahmeshwar's role in the massacres could not be proved.
However, his joy was short-lived as the man who lived the life of a rebel was gunned down by unidentified men as he came out of his house for a stroll early on June 1. Brahmeshwar had already outlived his utility for the power brokers, and those who had politically and financially supported the now-defunct Ranvir Sena.
Moreover, the present Bihar government in the course of its seven-year rule has tried its best and succeeded to some extent in pushing caste to the background and putting development as the main criteria during an election.
Just before the 2010 Bihar Assembly elections there was a conspiracy hatched by some Janata Dal (United) MPs, MLAs and leaders from the forward castes to try and rock the boat because Nitish Kumar's pro-Dalit and backwards caste policies were not to their liking.
In 2009 Nitish Kumar had categorically ruled out implementing the recommendations of the D Bandyopadhyaya Commission, which was constituted to suggest land reforms measures in the predominantly-agrarian Bihar.
As soon as the news of the Bandyopadhyaya Commission finalising its report came, landowners support by many MPs and MLAs started raising their voice against it, fearing that they would be forced to party ways with excessive land under their ownership.
But, the Bihar Chief Minister sensing the deep caste fissures in the state decided against implementing the report, dousing the simmering revolt.
After the Nitish tsunami swept Bihar giving the JD(U)-BJP alliance an overwhelming majority in the state Assembly, the detractors were sidelined by the Chief Minister, who continued with his social reengineering.
But till date the Nitish Kumar government has failed to woo large-scale investments and generate skilled jobs, resulting in growing disenchantment among the people of Bihar. The extremely critical power situation, poor infrastructure even after the spectacular improvement in the condition of the roads, and the lack of skilled manpower last few months have all contributed to the low levels of investment.
Even Nitish had to face the ire of the people due to the poor power situation and to compound his woes the last few months have seen a small but steady rise in Bihar's crime graph, giving his rivals the much-needed stick to beat the state government with.
Now Brahmeshwar's murder has become a rallying point for JD(U)-BJP rivals like Lalu Prasad, Ram Vilas Paswan and the Congress, which is almost non-existent in the state.
The extremely brazen method of Brahmeshwar's killing has thrown the state government and the police force into a tizzy with no definite clues emerging till now about the motive even though the Ranvir Sena chief's family has alleged that Sunil Pandey, a MLA of the ruling party, is behind the gruesome act.
Bihar Police has already detained a close aide of Pandey from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand and have also provided security to Brahmeshwar's family members. Nitish Kumar has also ordered an enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the murder.
Gyaneshwar Vatsyayan, a Patna-based senior journalist, called Nitish Kumar's move of ordering CBI probe into the murder as killing two birds with one stone. He said that with the CBI in charge, Nitish can not only avoid the allegation of influencing the investigation but also take a swift and strong action those involved in the murder even if they belong to his party.
Rubbishing allegations that Maoists were behind the murder Gyaneshwar said, "He was killed by his supporters. Maoists and Naxals are not involved in this murder. The Maoists are very quick to claim credit for any killing by littering and pasting their posters at the site. No such thing has happened after Brahmeshwar's killing."
Senior Bihar Police officials that IBNLive spoke to also confirmed the theory, saying that eliminating Brahmeshwar would not have helped the Maoists in any way and more over the Red ultras are not known to hide after carrying out a retaliatory killing, but always come out in the open to take credit for it.
Police and Gyaneshwar also justified police inaction against the mob indulging in violence during Brahmeshwar's funeral procession. They point out that the target of the mob was government property and vehicles, and a strong action would have only played into the hands of the mischief makers.
"The mob was allowed to vent its ire and let out the pent up anger. Any action by the police like firing would have resulted in casualties, leading to polarisation and become a bigger problem," said Gyaneshwar.
Ruling out a caste angle in the murder, many JD(U) leaders claim that the killing has given a common platform to Nitish's rivals and they are busy plotting their moves to make life tough for the Chief Minister, who is immensely popular.
Nitish Kumar has been basking in the glory of the stupendous growth rate in Bihar's GDP even though it has failed to set up large industries. But the road ahead for his government is only going to get tough as people's expectations rise.
Already Bihar Animal Husbandry & Fisheries Minister and BJP MLA Giriraj Singh has gone on record comparing Brahmeshwar to Mahatma Gandhi and if the state administration does not take immediate steps to contain the aftermath, it would be faced with a very daunting task.
The Bihar Chief Minister has till now been restrained and not made any unnecessary statement, but he also needs to act fast to expedite the development and social programmes to make sure that things don't spiral out of control in a politically charged environment as the state has only recently started to value economic progress must more than caste.
Despite the double-digit growth rate over the past few years, Bihar is still several years behind the more developed states of India and could very well return to the dark days of lawlessness. If this happens than Bihar can very well bid goodbye to the dream of becoming the leading light of the country once again.