Patna, Aug. 29: “Ek mamuli aadmi ke liye kahe pareshan ho'” asked Brahmeshwar Singh as he walked into the press room of the senior police superintendent’s office in Patna to face eager reporters and a battery of cameramen and photographers.
The guards stood alert as police officers presented their “big catch” to the media. The elusive chief of the dreaded Ranbir Sena, the private army of upper-caste landlords, was one of the most wanted men in Bihar with a reward of Rs 5 lakh on his head. He was the mastermind behind at least 36 massacres in central Bihar between 1994 and 2000 that left 400 persons dead.
He was not as “mamuli” as he professed. And he knew that. There was a flicker in his eyes behind the heavy spectacles when he told the journalists: “Any doubt about my identity' I am Barmeswar Singh…. I am a simple Brahmin working for the farmers.”
At a clandestine rendezvous with some reporters last year, he had said that he was arrested earlier in 1998. But he was let off as they did not recognise him. Over the past five years, when the Ranbir Sena kept both Dalits and policemen on toes, Singh maintained a very low profile. Few knew him. Among his men, he is known for his “ruthless nature”.
But the lean and tall Singh, sporting a bristling moustache and a red tilak and carrying a gamchha, hardly looked the man whose name is synonymous with terror in central Bihar, where his organisation is engaged in a bloody conflict with the Naxalite groups.
The “simple Brahmin” from Bhojpur, a post graduate in political science from Patna University, was teaching in a school in 1994 when the idea of Ranbir Sena came to his mind. Bankrolled by rich farmers, his death squad was named after Ranbir, a former armyman who worked for the welfare of the poor at Belaur village of Bhojpur, about 180 km from Patna. So popular was he, a temple was set up in the village in his memory.
Singh cleverly used his name to win the support of the villager in his fight to the finish against Naxalites. Even his most-hated adversary, the CPI(M-L) observed in a report in 1999: “Ranbir Sena is a most notorious and most ruthless private army.” Singh’s squad did not even spare children in its act of butchery.
“I gave up everything to dedicate myself to the welfare of the farmers in 1994 because I believed that the single biggest menace of the country was Naxalism. To wipe out this extremist group, we were forced to take up arms,” he had said at Punaichowk.
Singh seemed as poised as he was in 2001 when he met the reporters at a hideout in Punaichowk, about 1 km from the state police headquarters, mouthed his anti-Naxalite rhetoric and gave the police the slip.
“What impact would your arrest have on your organisation'” curious reporters asked him today. Pat came the reply: “No impact. Don’t worry.” Sunil Kumar, the senior superintendent of police, admitted that the Ranbir Sena was a structured organisation with pronounced hierarchies. “We have to watch it closely now,” he said.
Singh’s arrest, according to police sources, would further weaken his splintered outfit, if not destroy it. Some key leaders like Sunil Pandey have begun to disown it.
Pandey walked out to join politics and is now an Independent MLA.
Singh’s Sena marked a sinister turning point in the caste wars in Bihar. The massacres triggered political upheaval, and now his arrest holds the possibility of further controversy.
The Rabri Devi government, which will be happiest with Singh’s arrest, will try to unveil the political links of the outfit, specially with the leaders of the Opposition who were called by the Amir Das Commission set up by the Rashtriya Janata Dal government after the Lakhsmanpur-Bathe massacre.
But if Singh wanted to be a little clever, he could name some of the RJD leaders who have been called by the commission. A political witch-hunt could soon start here.
But will the arrest act as a deterrent to the caste carnages in central Bihar' Not even the most loyal RJD minister would vouch for it.