From father to son, flow of power & fear

The owner of the dhaba on the outskirts of Araria town was about to place the glasses of steaming tea on our table, but his hands stopped and remained suspended in the air for a couple of seconds. The man cleaning the table next to us also halted abruptly midway through his chore.

By Dev Raj
  • Published 24.01.16
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Meer Nagar in Araria town where Sarfraz Alam's father Taslimuddin has a house. Picture by Dev Raj

Araria, Jan. 23: The owner of the dhaba on the outskirts of Araria town was about to place the glasses of steaming tea on our table, but his hands stopped and remained suspended in the air for a couple of seconds. The man cleaning the table next to us also halted abruptly midway through his chore.

The suspended disbelief was a reaction to our remark on the filth and muck-laden streets of the place, coupled with a question about whether local RJD MP Mohammad Taslimuddin and his son Sarfraz Alam, a JDU MLA from Jokihat constituency (around 8km from Araria town) accused of harassing a woman passenger on the Dibrugarh-New Delhi Rajdhani Express last Sunday, are actually doing anything for its development.

The question was innocuous as Araria district is among the most backward in Bihar on social parameters - right from health, education to public amenities.

As the owner of the eatery regained his nerves and placed his cup of tea in front of us, he gave a piece of suggestion mixed with a trace of command. " Sarkar, chai pee kar nikaliye yahan se (Please drink your tea and leave). We do not want to get embroiled in any controversy," he said.

Such is the writ of the MP-MLA father-son duo, who live in their separate houses in Araria, that nobody wants to speak about them in the district. If you cajole the local populace, you will get tidbits of information, but always with a rider claiming that Taslimuddin and Sarfraz do not harm any locals residing around their place.

Taslimuddin and Sarfraz belong to the Kulahiya community of Muslims. Distinguished by their tendency to wear Persian caps ( kulah in Persian language means a cap), this community once served as soldiers in the Mughal army. They were known as ferocious and ruthless fighters.

The Kulahiyas have tribal traits - they are notified among the Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the state - and avoid marrying into other Muslim communities. Their population is around 35 lakh - mostly settled in Araria, Purnea, Katihar and Kishanganj districts in northeastern Bihar and in contiguous areas of Nepal, which lies across the border.

Taslimuddin, 73, a native of Sisauna village of Araria, entered politics in the early 1960s. He became an MLA for the first time in 1969 and entered the Lok Sabha in 1989. Till now he has been an MLA seven times and a Lok Sabha member five times.

Locals recall how Taslimuddin emerged as a strongman in the area and his name cropped up in several criminal cases through his half-a-century long political career. He was feared, they say in hushed tones, but never respected.

"He switched with ease from one party to another - including, Congress, Janata Party, Janata Dal, RJD, JDU - but was also willing to contest as an Independent on the strength of the powerful and united base of the Kulahiya Muslims," said an Araria professor, who did not wish to be named.

During his heydays in politics, Taslimuddin faced around two dozen criminal cases. He was also accused of trying to extort money from Mata Gujri Memorial Medical College in Katihar, a minority institution run by Sikhs. The matter came to light when Akali Dal MPs raised the issue in Parliament.

But such was Taslimuddin's clout that he went on to become the minister of state for home in the HD Deve Gowda government at the Centre in 1996. He also served as junior minister for agriculture and as well as consumer affairs, food and public distribution.

Taslimuddin now faces four cases pertaining to criminal intimidation, hurt by means of poison and extortion. Charges have been framed in two of them, while the court has taken cognisance in other two.

Of his four sons and five daughters, only Sarfraz, 46, has been able to emerge on the political horizon.

People in Seemanchal discuss in hushed tones the allegation of harassment levelled against Sarfraz on the Dibrugarh Rajdhani on January 17.

"Sarfraz has grown in power only due to the base prepared by his father. He was also a minister for some time in the RJD government which ruled the state for 15 years prior to 2005," a local shopkeeper in Araria town said.

As per the affidavit filed by Sarfraz while contesting the Assembly elections last year from Jokihat, he is currently facing eight criminal cases pertaining to charges related to attempt to murder, wrongful restraint, kidnapping or abduction in order to murder, robbery or dacoity with attempt to cause death or grievous hurt, rioting, assault on public servant among others.

Most of these cases are from 1996 to 2008 and are related to different incidents in Araria and Kishanganj districts. Charges have been framed in five cases, while the court has taken cognisance in three others. Sarfraz was once arrested in 2010 in an assault case dating back to 2004 in which he and his supporters were accused of attacking then JDU MLA Manzar Alam. He kept on evading arrest until he was nabbed. He later secured bail in the case.

A senior police officer from Araria said: "Of late we have been hearing about the MLA demanding extortion or protection money from infrastructure contractors working here and in adjoining districts. But we cannot take action till somebody actually complains to us."

As of now, Sarfraz is feeling the heat as he has been summoned by the Government Railway Police in Patna to present his side in the case of sexual harassment against him. Police are confident the evidence they have is enough to nail him. But as locals say, the family knows the art of finding its way around the law. Only time will tell if they still retain the art or whether the long hand of law will finally catch up with Sarfraz.