On September 13, 1996 Ghulam Haider’s family was allegedly murdered by RJD leader and don, Mohammad Shahabuddin. A year later two more Left activists – Chandrashekhar and Shyam Narain Yadav were also allegedly shot by the notorious politician. Twenty years later, as Shahabuddin walked free after getting bail in one of the many cases pending against him, CPI-ML General Secretary, Dipankar Bhattacharya spoke to Newsd about Mohammad Shahabuddin and his years of impunity and power in Bihar.
1. Former RJD parliamentarian Mohammad Shahabuddin has been tried by the court, sent to jail and released on bail after 11 years. This shows he served his sentence and was punished for his crime. Law took its course. Why the opposition after all this?
A. He has not been acquitted but only released on bail. He was known to be exercising a lot of influence even while in jail, but now that he’d be out in the open, many in Siwan are apprehensive of the implications of his bail. Hence the widespread unease with his bail.
There is also the other issue of disparity. While Shahabuddin has been granted bail, as has also been the case with the JDU MLA from Jeeradei Ramesh Kushwaha, CPIML MLA from Darauli Satyadeo Ram and Jeeradei candidate Amarjeet Kushwaha continue to languish in jail. They are well known leaders of agricultural labourers and the youth in Siwan and the case in which they are arrested is widely known to be a politically motivated false case filed by the former BJP MLA from Darauli.
2. History suggests CPI-ML & Shahabuddin have never shared cordial ties. Shahabuddin’s association with the killing of JNUSU president Chandrashekhar in 1997 further fuelled the hatred. Your comments?
CPIML work in Siwan began long before Shahabuddin rose to political prominence. Like in most other districts of Bihar, in Siwan too, the CPIML struggles grew on issues of land, wages and social dignity and political rights for the oppressed poor. Perhaps he saw Chandrasekhar as a potential rival in the electoral arena and had him eliminated.
Another fact that is little discussed in the media but known to political observers in Siwan is how Shahabuddin was propped up by the feudal powerlords who wanted to contain the CPIML by all means. Despite all these factors, our struggle against Shahabuddin has always been a political struggle, an integral part of the larger battle against crime and corruption epitomized by the RJD rule in Bihar from the late 1990s onward.
3. CPI-ML was known as the only political force in Siwan that openly challenged Shahabuddin. Shahbuddin shared such clout that until the October 2005 Bihar assembly polls, the campaign vehicles of other political parties were not permitted on the roads of Siwan. However, he gained ‘popularity’ with ‘pro-poor’ diktats in the early 90s. Doesn’t this indicate that his intentions weren’t wrong after all?
I know he’s sought to be projected as a Robin Hood of sorts. I can’t talk about his intentions, all I know is his actions have been detrimental to the lives and liberties of so many people, not only those in the CPIML, but common citizens of Siwan, including many in the Muslim community. Not sure if and how much of a ‘reformed’ Shahabuddin we are going to see in the coming days.
4. There has been a battle for supremacy between Shahabuddin and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation since the 1990s. Why was your party so adamant on winning Siwan?
There is no battle for supremacy, it’s only a battle for justice and democracy, and the CPIML can never give it up.
5. Siwan has been witnessing protests post his release by CPI-ML. What next?
I think the opposition to the bail has not been confined to Siwan, it is a matter of concern for justice-loving people across the country. Of course, there are some people who would like to single out the case of Shahabuddin because of his religious affiliation. I am talking of those who have no problem with the likes of Kodnani and Bajrangi, with the spate of killings and rapes and beatings in the name of cow protection, with the wholesale acquittal of the perpetrators of horrific massacres of the rural poor in Bathanitola and Laxmanpur-Bathe. But to effectively oppose such ‘selective’ voices we have to be consistent in our concerns.