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Nitish battles party demons

- Criminal-politician nexus deep-rooted

Patna, June 8: The investigation into the murder of slain Ranvir Sena chief Brahmeshwar Singh “Mukhiya” has again brought to the fore an uncomfortable truth: the criminal-politician nexus in Bihar is alive and kicking.

The murder and its violent aftermath have posed the first real challenge to chief minister’s Nitish Kumar’s susashan regime and the “clean image” he had assiduously built for himself and his party over the years.

“He rode a tiger in his efforts to replace the Lalu-Rabri regime and now he is afraid to dismount,” a senior JD(U) leader said, quoting a Chinese proverb, adding that Nitish should have carried out a purge to rid the party of criminal elements.

The reference was to the special investigation team (SIT)’s needle of suspicion pointing to two legislator-brothers and many of their relatives and associates.

The legislators — Sunil Pandey and Hulas Pandey — are associated with the ruling JD(U). While Sunil won the Terari Assembly seat in Bhojpur district in 2010 on a JD(U) ticket, Hulas won as an MLC on the local bodies’ quota with the support of the party.

Sunil Pandey categorically denied having any role in the murder. “I have nothing to do with Mukhiya’s murder,” he told The Telegraph over phone. “I will readily undergo a narco test if required.”

Hulas Pandey could not be reached for comment as his whereabouts are not known.

The JD(U) source said the SIT’s probe was centred around party legislators and cadres mainly belonging to the upper caste Bhumihars who had fiercely supported the NDA in their war against the RJD.

The leader said these demons now threaten to overturn what Nitish stood for at the outset: “rule of law, governance and growth with justice”.

CPI veteran A.B. Bardhan, who was here in connection with his party’s programme, was candid. “Brahmeshwar’s murder, by all accounts, was a political one. The murder and related developments clearly suggest that Nitish took the support of such forces to dislodge Lalu Prasad from power,” he said.

Bardhan’s reference to “such forces” pertains to the likes of Sunil and Hulas Pandey, who started their careers as Ranvir Sena “operatives” in the 1990s according to police records, besides Anant Singh, now a JD(U) MLA, who has numerous cases of crime against him, and many others who are not legislators but are an integral part of the party rank-and-file.

Monu Singh, who was picked up by the SIT from Jamshedpur, was believed to be the “trusted shooter” of Sunil Pandey. Kunal, who was interrogated by the SIT, is Sunil’s brother-in-law. Abhay Pandey, whose house was raided at Katira in Ara, is a relative of Surendra Pandey and Hareram Pandey — the nephews of Sunil and Hulas Pandey.

The SIT, as well as local residents, suspects that several members of the next generation of the Ranvir Sena had either become legislators and or were “beneficiaries” of business contracts under the ruling dispensation.

“Mukhiya, after coming out of jail in 2011, started giving a new shape to the cadres under his Rastravadi Kisan Mahasangh, proving to be a hurdle in the way of the new generation’s ambitions,” a senior police official said.