Aam aadmi finds a voice in Bihar

Political parties put recruitment of netas, babus with chequered past on hold as Kejriwal’s ‘broom’ sweeps in some change

Kanhaiya Bhelari | January 13, 2014


AAP’s popularity in Bihar has forced the other parties to change their strategies for the upcoming general elections.
AAP’s popularity in Bihar has forced the other parties to change their strategies for the upcoming general elections.

Krishnanand Singh (alias Chhotu Singh), a contractor with criminal background from Buxar, was all set to join JD(U), the ruling party in Bihar. But his entry into chief minister Nitish Kumar’s party has become uncertain – or at the very least, delayed. The credit goes to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the ripples of whose stellar performance in Delhi are also being felt in a faraway Bihar.

A senior JD(U) leader from Buxar, currently holding an important portfolio in the government, has asked him to wait till the fledgling party’s prospect in the state becomes clearer. “AAP mera baap yaad dila diya (AAP has made things really hard for me),” said Chhotu Singh angrily when I called him.

Disappointed, Chhotu Singh hinted he might join Lalu Prasad’s RJD. Unfortunately, there is not much good news there either. “RJD has forever closed its door for the criminals,” said Jagadanand Singh, the long-serving MP of RJD from Buxar. However, Jagadanand Singh was careful to not attribute this as a repercussion of AAP’s nationwide popularity, but rather as a benevolent response to the rival party’s induction of criminals. “All the hardcore criminals, dons and anti-social elements have been hired in the last five years by Nitish Kumar’s party,” he alleged. “Not even a small fry among them is left for others.”

In the two weeks before AAP hit the headlines by winning 28 seats in Delhi, JD(U) inducted three notorious criminals – Chunnu Thakur, Babloo Dev, and Shah Alam Shaboo – into the party, apparently to ensure victory in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Thakur had shot into limelight in 2005 after his abduction of the 14-year-old Kishlay Kaushal had become a national news. (“Kahan hai mera Kishlay,” a sentimental outcry by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, went a long way in mobilising the people of Bihar against the then RJD government.) Dev, a former MLA from RJD, has more than two dozen criminal cases lodged against him in East and West Champaran districts. Shaboo, a veteran land mafia from Muzaffarpur, had unsuccessfully contested the last assembly elections from LJP.

Thanks to the AAP effect, less than two weeks after he was inducted, Chunnu Thakur was unceremoniously thrown out. Sources said the two other bahubalis have not been given any responsibility, and they could also be thrown out any time.

“People were inducted without their credentials being verified,” a minister said. “But the ‘broom’ factor has changed the mindset.” According to him the party has almost made up its mind to fish out the three Lok Sabha members who were caught in a sting operation by CobraPost recently. (There were also rumours about Nitish giving the ticket to the wives of two of the jailed criminal-turned-politicians – Anand Mohan Singh and Mohammad Shahabuddin – but they were proved false.)

Induction of musclemen in JD(U) came as a surprise to many because Nitish himself, after taking the oath of chief minister in 2005, had promised to deal sternly with the criminals. One therefore wonders if it is the breakup with BJP that has made him insecure, and therefore desperate, to continue in power by all means.
Majority of the JD(U) workers, however, are of the view that entry of criminals into the party should be banned. “With people tilting towards healthy politics,” said Preetam Patel, “allowing criminals into the party is tarnishing the image of the chief minister as well as the party’s credibility.”

Another instance of AAP’s growing popularity was witnessed in Bhagalpur on January 1 when the residents supported Parmanand Sharma, a rather unknown person, sitting on hunger strike protesting against capture of his 75 square feet land allegedly by Bhudeo Chaudhary, the JD(U) MP from Jamui. “That Sharma is getting tremendous support from the people,” said Rup Kumar, a local journalist, “suggests AAP will be a strong political outfit in days to come.”

A JD(U) office-bearer said that half a dozen retired government officers – most with a chequered past – are in the queue to join the party, but they have also been put on hold after Arvind Kejriwal took over power in Delhi. “Our leader does not want to compromise with his image,” he said, “even though some leaders in the party want these officers inducted.”

“AAP is a political innovation that has come as a game changer,” said Shaibal Gupta of the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute. When all of the leading parties of a state ban criminals, it strongly indicates that AAP’s success has compelled them to rethink their 2014 strategies.

The most popular belief about AAP, however, still remains that Bihar, unlike Delhi, is still deeply rooted in conventional politics, and so the party would find it very difficult to make inroads into the state.

On the other hand, Ratnesh Chaudhary, the state convener of AAP, is hopeful that the party would be in a position to make its presence felt in the general elections. “We have already recruited 30,000 members, besides hundreds of online memberships,” he said, adding, “Intellectuals—doctors, professors and engineers—are knocking our doors for entry.”

Observers believe that the delay in the possible electoral tie-up between Congress and RJD in Bihar is also due to the AAP factor. BJP, on the other hand, recently got on board a prominent Bihar AAP leader Arvind Kumar Singh into the party. Recent rumours in Patna have it that the ruling party itself might collaborate with AAP for the general elections.

Whatever the results, AAP already seems to have successfully invaded one of the politically most impregnable states.

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