|(Top) Munna Shukla and Surajbhan Singh
Patna, July 24: Patna High Court today acquitted former LJP MP Surajbhan Singh and eight others, including ex-MLA Munna Shukla, in the 1998 murder of former state minister Brij Bihari Prasad for lack of evidence.
The division bench of Justice V.N. Sinha and Justice Iqbal Ahmed Ansari passed the order. Eight others who were acquitted on Thursday included former MLAs Vijay Kumar Shukla alias Munna Shukla, Rajan Tiwari and Shashi Kumar Rai (now dead), and Mantu Tiwari, Lallan Singh, Mukesh Singh, Ram Niranjan Chaudhary and Captain Sunil. The court of additional district and sessions Judge-III, Patna, had on August 12, 2009, awarded all the accused life imprisonment.
The high court, in its judgment, said: “All the nine accused deserve grant of benefit of doubt. Their conviction under the impugned judgment is, accordingly, set aside.”
The court ordered the release of Munna Shukla, Rajan Tiwari and Mantu Tiwari, currently in jail, and discharged six others, including Surajbhan Singh, from liability of their respective bail bonds.
Armed men had gunned down RJD leader Brij Bihari, an accused in the engineering admissions scam, inside the Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences in Patna during his evening walk on June 13, 1998. He was admitted there for treatment while in judicial custody.
The slain ex-minister’s widow, Rama Devi, now BJP MP from Sheohar, had blamed RJD chief Lalu Prasad for the murder. Brij Bihari was a senior minister in Lalu Prasad’s cabinet in the early 1990s.
Because of their earlier conviction, Munna and Surajbhan could not contest the recent Lok Sabha polls. A party worker said: “They had fielded their wives. Surajbhan’s wife Veena Devi won from Munger on an LJP ticket while Munna’s wife Annu Shukla, JDU MLA from Lalganj in Vaishali district, lost to another strongman-turned-politician, Ramakishore Singh.”
Brij Bihari’s murder had brought the spotlight on Munna. The murder was a fallout of the December 1994 killing of Munna’s elder brother Chhotan Shukla. Brij Bihari was suspected to be involved in the murder of Chhotan, who was set to contest the Assembly elections from Kesaria in East Champaran on a ticket from Anand Mohan’s erstwhile Bihar People’s Party. Anand Mohan, Chhotan and Surajbhan planned to change the political equation in the state. Anand Mohan was an influential Rajput leader while Chhotan and Surajbhan enjoyed immense clout among people of their caste — Bhumihars.
“The unfolding caste combinations had irked the then leadership. Chhotan was attacked while returning after campaigning,” a confidant of Chhotan said.