One man’s exit has changed Pratappur like never before.
One-time Muslim mascot, former MP and controversial leader Mohammad Shahabuddin ruled Siwan for over a decade from his village Pratappur, 10km south of Siwan. Such was his presence that no political party other than the CPI-ML(Liberation) dared stay in Siwan to face Shahabuddin’s boys.
Eight years down the line, the village has been divided into two parts, thanks to JD(U) candidate Manoj Kumar Singh of the same village. Part of the village that still has many Shahabuddin supporters is called Muslim Tola. The other side, which supports Manoj, is called Rajput Tola, never visible during the uncrowned reign of Mohammad Shahabuddin.
The division is so sharp people of both sides hardly interact with each other. Interestingly, Manoj began his political career with Mohammad Shahabuddin. He worked under him but never formally joined the RJD. He had joined the BJP in 2008 and was expelled in 2009 for extending support to Om Prakash Yadav, an Independent candidate from Siwan, during parliamentary polls. The same year he became an MLC as an Independent candidate.
With a population of around 50,000, Pratappur was once Shahabuddin’s den. Such was his influence he used to run his empire from his double-storeyed palatial white house spread over 4 acres of land, famously called “Sahab ka Bungalow”.
Change came to the region only after chief minister Nitish Kumar liberated Siwan from the “reign of terror”.
|Mohammad Shahabuddin’s house in Pratappur village in Siwan before he was elected to Parliament. Picture by Deepak Kumar
“We barely go to Rajput Tola or interact with them. All this happened after the JD(U) pitted Manoj Kumar Singh against our leader. Manoj used to work for Shahabuddin and now has the guts to contest against Shahabuddin’s wife Hena Shahab,” said Wahid Ali, a Pratappur resident.
In March 2001, the village had seen a fierce gun-battle between police and Shahabuddin supporters in which 12 people, including a policeman, were killed. In April 2005, police raided the house and recovered a German pistol, a .38 bore Webley Scott firearm, semi-automatic weapons and country-made kattas, imported, ultra-light bulletproof jackets, US-made Motorola walkie-talkies and half a dozen stolen vehicles and deer skins.
As things stands now, the people of Pratappur village do not want to talk about the past. All they want to see is change. “Sahab (Shahabuddin) has been falsely framed. He gave the district engineering and medical colleges. The development work will continue once Hena Shahab becomes an MP,” said Mohammad Shadab Ali.
Compared to Muslim Tola, which has a cemented road, the approach road to Rajput Tola is of bad quality and muddy. People of both Tolas move around freely and fearlessly on the narrow streets of Pratappur village but never stop by to engage in small talk.
Those residing in Rajput tola, less populated than Muslim Tola, accept that there is greater participation in the poll process here as two persons from the same village are contesting against each other.
“The participation or division will continue for some time because it is not a one-day affair. Two candidates in the fray from the same village is considered disturbing,” said Pratappur resident Vikrant Singh. It is apparent. In any village, residents usually know everything about every other resident. But we enquired about Manoj’s house in Muslim Tola and were told sternly to ask someone else.
Asked about the division in the village, Manoj’s mother, Ramavati Devi, who lives in a three-storeyed house in Pratappur, said: “This is election time so some kind of differences will prevail among people. But I don’t think there is any bitterness between Rajputs and Muslims here. People live happily with each other and participate in each other’s function.”
The sixty-year-old was reticent or shy about her son’s chances in this Lok Sabha election. “I do not know, but I hear from others that he has a strong chance of winning. Let’s see what happens.”
More interestingly, for the first time, campaign vehicles of other parties are going around Pratappur, something unheard of earlier because of the Shahabuddin fear factor. “It was not possible for us to even tread the road towards Pratappur. Shahabuddin’s men would chase us away. But now things have changed because of improved law and order in Siwan district,” said a JD(U) supporter campaigning in Pratappur.
• Siwan votes today