While the first Dalit President of India K R Narayanan was delivering the Republic Day eve nation-wide speech late on January 25, 1999 evening the armed miscreants of Bihar’s dreaded upper caste army, Ranvir Sena, was carrying out massacre of two dozen people belonging to Scheduled Castes at Shankarbigha village in Jehanabad district of Bihar. A pregnant woman–who was shot in the womb–was among men, women and children killed.
The following day, when the country was in a celebration mood, the private army of this upper caste farmers, mostly Bhumihars, dropped a Press release in all the offices of newspapers of Patna. As newspapers in Bihar do not have any edition on the Republic Day the identity of those who brought this long Press statement could not be known.
Ironically the address of Ranvir Sena’s office given in this release was that of Police Line, Patna. It may have been given to confuse the authorities, yet it is also a fact that ex-servicemen, BSF and police personnel had later been arrested on the charge of having association with Ranvir Sena, which carried out many carnages, most of them of Dalits, in the killing fields of Bihar.
The content of the Press statement was even more shocking. It openly claimed that the killings have been carried out on the eve of the Republic Day as the Ranvir Sena wants to send a message to the Dalit President, who had a few months back rejected the then Vajpayee government’s recommendation for the imposition of the President’s Rule in Bihar, then ruled by Rabri Devi. It went on to state that they have deliberately chosen the date and timing and have targeted woman in family way too as ‘a serpent’s progeny will always be a serpent’ (sanp ka bachcha sanp hota hai). This was the way the statement referred to the baby in the womb of the Dalit woman. It also alleged that the Dalit President is supporting the state government which is being ruled by a backward caste woman.
Narayanan, a former diplomat originally from Kerala, was a renowned scholar, and had even served in the Congress government as a minister. He was actually elected as the first Dalit President when the United Front government led by I K Gujral was in power in 1997. This government had the outside support of Congress.
Narayanan was subjected to widespread criticism by the BJP leaders when he turned down the then NDA government’s recommendation to impose President Rule in Bihar. The NDA government came to power in 1998 and this was among the first major decisions taken later in the same year.
As the constitutional machinery had not collapsed, there was no room for the imposition of Article 356. The Ranvir Sena men, enjoying patronage of many BJP and JD(U) (then known as Samata Party) leaders, openly carried out the killing of the Dalits to show that law and order situation has broken down.
Incidentally, the Shankarbigha barbarism was followed by the killing of 11 more Dalits on Feb 10 in Narayanpur village of the same Jehanabad district. Curiously, the name of the village has similarity with the name of the then President.
This prompted the then Vajpayee government to once again recommend the President’s Rule and a day later Rabri Devi government was finally sacked.
As the then NDA lacked majority in the Rajya Sabha and the Sonia Gandhi led Congress decided not to back the President’s Rule the Centre had to ultimately reinstate the Rabri Devi government on March 8.
Nineteen years later India has another Dalit President, Ram Nath Kovind. He is originally from UP and had served as the Governor of Bihar before getting elected as the President last year.
However, he belongs to the BJP, which is in power in the Centre. Dalits are once again being targeted in separate incidents all over the country. Nobody is recommending imposition of Article 356 in any of these states.
If Ranvir Sena spoiled the Republic Day in 1999, Karni Sena, the private army of Rajputs, is on the rampage on the eve of the national festival and that too when 10 ASEAN leaders have been invited to attend the celebration. This is in protest against the release of film Padmaavat on January 25.
When the Left parties and the ruling RJD in Bihar then accused the BJP and Samata Party of being hand in glove with the Ranvir Sena they denied the charges. But a year after 1999 when Assembly election took place in Bihar in February 2000 the Samata Party gave ticket to the dreaded Ranvir Sena commander Narendra Pandey, known more by his nickname Sunil Pandey. He contested and won while still underground. He was arrested in a dramatic fashion at the gate of Assembly after winning the election.
Twelve years later on June 1, 2012 the founder of Ranvir Sena, Brahmeshwar Singh, alias Mukhiyaji, was gunned down while he was having his morning walk in Ara town. He was out of jail after having spent some time.
The man accused by Mukhiyaji’s son and family members of plotting the murder was none else but the same Sunil Pandey and his brother Hulas Pandey, who too was a JD(U) MLC.
When Nitish Kumar was in power heading the JD(U)-BJP government a split surfaced in Ranvir Sena. It was now Bhumihars vs Bhumihars which led to the killing.
For two days the upper caste youths, especially Bhumihars, went on warpath with police turning blind eye. Mukhiyaji’s body was brought in procession from Ara to Patna for performing the last rites. In the 70 km long stretch between the two cities the mob ransacked, torched and looted everything on the roads with chief minister Nitish Kumar uttering not a word. He flew to Bhagalpur on an official tour.
Those who took part in the funeral procession included top BJP and JD(U) leaders as well as a few Bhumihar administrative and police officials.
They were the same leaders who in 1999 had denied that they had anything to do with Ranvir Sena.
There is a lesson for those who are backing Ranvir Sena type elements at the national level today. Neither any Dalit nor any Maoist, but the most trusted lieutenant of the founding father of Ranvir Sena, who got him killed.
(Soroor Ahmed is a freelance journalist.)