| Barmeswarnath Singh
Patna, Aug. 29: Barmeswarnath Singh, the elusive Ranbir Sena founder who masterminded 36 massacres that left 400 dead over six years, including 63 Dalits in its worst strike at Lakshmanpur-Bathe in 1997, was arrested here this afternoon.
Police immediately flaunted their prize catch before the media and tom-tommed the arrest as a major breakthrough in their battle against the bloody caste clashes in the state.
A thrilled Laloo Prasad Yadav announced that the policemen behind the arrest would be rewarded. “The arrest could be a political turning point since many of the politicians who had links with the organisation would now be exposed,” Laloo said.
Better known as Mukhia, Singh was strolling along the bustling Exhibition Road with five cronies when policemen stopped them and took them into custody.
“Neither he nor any of his supporters offered any resistance. The Ranbir men— even Mukhia — were not armed,” senior superintendent of police, Patna, Sunil Kumar said. They will be produced in court tomorrow.
After the arrest, Mukhia said he had come from Bhojpur to attend a meeting of one of the frontal organisations of his Sena in Patna. “I was taking the fresh air of Patna. The weather was pleasant,” he told the police.
Sources close to the Sena said Mukhia’s arrest was made possible by the cracks in the outfit after the political parties backing it turned their backs, indicating that one of the rival factions had tipped off the police about Mukhia’s whereabouts.
Mukhia had proved so elusive that identification became a problem. Police did not have any photograph of the man, whose name spelt terror for Dalits in the state. Finally, some Sena soldiers who had surrendered earlier came to their rescue.
Making a brief appearance at a press conference organised by the police, the lanky, frail 55-year-old with salt-and-pepper stubble and wearing a khadi kurta and dhoti confessed: “Any doubts about my identity' I am Barmeswar Singh.”
His cold eyes peering from behind heavy spectacles, the Ranbir Sena chief asserted that his arrest would have no impact on the functioning of his outfit. “My arrest cannot dampen the spirits of hundreds of farmers and unemployed youths for whom land is mother Earth.... They will die for it rather than give it to an aggressor,” he said.
He soon withdrew to a lock-up without saying much about the outfit he formed in 1994 at Belaur village of Ara in Bhojpur district.
The Ranbir Sena, bankrolled by rich landlords of the Bhumihar caste, had vowed to fight the Naxalites to the finish and targeted the Dalits, who backed the Naxalite groups battling for land reforms and for their right to land.
The Patna police superintendent said Mukhia was the brain behind at least 36 massacres in central Bihar between 1994 and 2000. The Ranbir Sena had last struck at Mianpur in Aurangabad district in July 2000, killing at least 36 Dalits and Yadavs. Its most ferocious strike at Lakshmanpur-Bathe in 1997 had triggered political tension, prompting the Opposition to demand President’s rule in the state.
Police have recorded at least 20 cases against Mukhia for massacres across Bhojpur, Gaya, Patna, Arwal, Jehanabad and Aurangabad districts. Though the arrest was a tame affair, police took no chances and transferred him to the high-security Beur model jail.
Reactions after Mukhia’s arrest were guarded. “We are happy to learn that Mukhia has been held, but we have to wait till he is prosecuted. He could still be dangerous while in jail,” said Prabhat Kumar, a spokesman of the CPI(M-L), many of whose cadre had fallen to the Sena. A People’s War Group spokesman said the arrest would be a great relief to the Dalits, but the organisational set-up of the outfit needed to be destroyed.