A convicted political don has emerged from a prematurely terminated life sentence to trigger a caste feud in Bihar’s ruling coalition to which he remains politically close.
Anand Mohan Singh, a former Lok Sabha MP who was sentenced to death for abetting the 1994 mob lynching of then Gopalganj district magistrate G. Krishnaiah, has taken belligerent objection to RJD Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha quoting a poem that rages against feudal excess, and demanded that Jha be cut to size. In the process, he has also offered his shoulder to the BJP to shoot at the Nitish-Lalu alliance.
Speaking on the debate over the women’s reservation bill during the special session of Parliament, Jha had quoted a poem by Om Prakash Valmiki, which opens with a sardonic take on upper caste hegemony: “Kuan Thakur ka, Paani Thakur ka, Khet Khalihar Thakur ka (The well belongs to Thakur; so do the water and all the farm fields)…” The poem ends up calling to “kill the Thakur within”. Jha was clearly employing the poem to make a case for reservations for OBCs within the quota, and arguing that the feudal mindset of the “exploitative Thakur” was responsible in fair measure for the denial of equal opportunities and dignity to women as well.
But Anand Mohan Singh, who fashions himself as a Rajput (Thakur) protagonist, decided to take literally what Jha may have only metaphorically meant with his references to “Thakur”. The RJD MP, Singh furiously alleged, had insulted all Thakurs by quoting Om Prakash Valmiki’s evocative verse. At one point, he said he would have “pulled out Jha’s tongue and tossed it towards the Chair” had he been present in the Rajya Sabha.
Anand Mohan Singh. File photo
Jha has repeatedly and stoutly defended his pick of the poem “Thakur ka kuan” (The Thakur’s well). “The poem is in the syllabus of several universities. It has been read thousands of times in public. Its meaning is clear. It is not related to any caste, it is related to the grammar of dominance,” Jha has said.
But it probably typifies the nature of politics in Bihar that Anand Mohan has been able to spur a caste honour war, as it were. Jha’s comments have set off a barrage of criticism from the leaders of the Thakur community across party lines, with BJP leaders at the forefront. Several BJP leaders, particularly Thakur MLAs Neeraj Singh Bablu and Raghavendra Pratap Singh, described Jha’s comments as “anti-Rajput”. Former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi used the issue to direct fire at the RJD’s top leadership and asked Tejashwi Yadav to apologise for Jha’s remarks.
Even Rajput leaders of chief minister Nitish Kumar’s JDU, including party MLC and former spokesman Sanjay Singh, have slammed Jha.
All of this has triggered speculation that Anand Mohan may switch loyalty to the BJP. Although he has no formal political affiliation at the moment, his wife and former Lok Sabha member, Lovely Anand is an RJD leader. Their son Chetan Anand is the party’s MLA from Sheohar. Their younger son Anshuman Mohan met Union defence minister and senior BJP leader Rajnath Singh just before Anand Mohan triggered his row with Jha.
Around the same time, Singh and Lovely had gone to meet RJD chief Lalu Prasad at his residence in Patna. They were made to wait at the gates before being told that he (Lalu) was not free and would only be able to meet them later. Asked on Friday if he believed Anand Mohan’s allegation that Jha had “insulted” Rajputs, Lalu said: “There is no such thing. A person will speak according to his intelligence. (Manoj) Jha is vidwaan (learned man). He (Anand Mohan) should see his own intellect and face.”
Anand Mohan was initially served a death sentence for the Krishnaiah killing by the trial court. The ruling was later commuted to a life term. This July, he was controversially released prematurely on a Nitish government-backed prayer to the Supreme Court. Uma Krishnaiah, widow of the slain civil servant, fought in vain against his release.
“Such people should have no place in politics or in any political party,” Uma Krishnaiah told The Telegraph, in light of the controversy over Jha. “What pinches me is that a criminal has been set free. I am in the last quarter of my life with very limited resources. I just want justice. I remember that the controversy on Singh’s release raged for two months but the Centre did not utter a word. We all know anything can happen in politics and politicians aid and abet so many crimes.”