The role of a jail manual in state politics
Umadevi K, wife of slain bureaucrat, moved the SC against Bihar’s amended prison manual, which let gangster-turned-politician Anand Mohan Singh walk out of jail
The Supreme Court recently issued notice to the Bihar government asking them to respond to a petition filed by the wife of slain bureaucrat G Krishnaiah, explaining the remittance granted to the man behind his murder, gangster-turned-politician Anand Mohan Singh, who walked out of jail on April 27 after serving 15 years and nine months in prison. Their response will likely be simple: on April 10, the state government amended Rule 481 (1-a) of the Bihar Prison Manual 2012, according to which anyone sentenced for the murder of a government servant on duty was earlier ineligible for remission even after 20 years.
The prominent Rajput leader’s release is a clear political move, although the government released a list of 26 others who will be released after serving a life term of 14 years. The amendment has been in the works for some time, and perhaps, analysts say, with an eye on the upcoming general elections next year where caste arithmetics and social engineering will play a significant role.
In the last week of January, chief minister Nitish Kumar dropped the first hint of the state government’s intention to release Singh, who was placed in jail in 2007 after being convicted of Gopalganj district magistrate G. Krishnaiah’s 1994 murder.
“Do not worry...go and ask his [Anand Mohan Singh’s] wife what is being done,” the CM told a gathering of the Rajput community in Patna at a function of Rashtriya Swabhiman Diwas on January 22. After distancing his party from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the CM was looking for another model of social engineering following talks of a breach in his Luv-Kush and EBC equation. Luv-Kush refers to the alliance between the Koeri and Kurmi castes, which constitute nearly 15% of the population by some estimates. EBC refers to Economically Backward Classes.
As per the changed manual procedure, remission applications are processed by a six-member state sentence remission board, which comprises the home secretary, law secretary, inspector general (prisons), inspector general of police, district and sessions judge, and director of probation services.
The deleted clauseJails are a state subject. On December 11, 2012, the Bihar government approved a new jail manual that replaced an 88-year-old prison guideline formulated in 1925. It provided for a more elaborate method of keeping records of inmates in keeping with the changed technology, including voice samples.
Although the state has introduced the remission clause as early as 2002, when the Rashtriya Janata Dal, led by Lalu Prasad Yadav was in power, the board that made the decision on releasing prisoners was never constituted.
“A clause was introduced in 2002 where exceptions were laid as to who all will be remitted. One of the sections of the clause mentioned that if a government servant on duty is killed, the accused of that murder case won’t be released. The new jail manual formed in 2012, included/incorporated the clause (481(i-a). As the language of the clause was vague (some words were missing), it was again amended in 2016,” said a senior Bihar government official.
Here’s what the rule stated: “Every convicted prisoner, whether male or female, undergoing sentence of life imprisonment and covered by the provisions of Section 433A CrPC, shall be eligible to be considered for premature release only after undergoing imprisonment for 20 years, including remissions: a) Convicts who have been imprisoned for life for murder in heinous cases, such as murder with rape, murder with dacoity, murder involving an offence under the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955, murder for dowry, murder of a child below 14 years of age, multiple murders, murder committed after conviction while inside the prison, murder during parole, murder in a terrorist incident, murder in smuggling operation, murder of a public servant on duty.”
On April 10, the last clause was deleted from the manual.
Political strategy?As the Bharatiya Janata Party raised an issue over the amended rule, the Bihar government deputed chief secretary Amir Subhani to clarify the state’s stand.
“He was released after recommendation through proper channels and compliance to basic conditions. Anand Mohan spent 15 years, nine months and 25 days in jail. With remission, he has completed a sentence of 22 years and 13 days. It cannot be given political colour as under law there is no separate category or special facility for an IAS officer,” Subhani said.
The government does not differentiate between a common man and a government servant, Subhani said.
Rajput politics are back in the centerstage in Bihar. The Rajput community form about 6% of Bihar’s population. Out of 40 Lok Sabha seats, in at least eight — Maharajganj, Aurangabad, East Champaran, Vaishali, Sheohar, Buxar, Ara and Banka — Rajputs votes play a decisive role. There are 300,000 to 400,000 Rajput voters in those seats alone.
According to the analysis of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), in the Bihar assembly election 2020, the grand alliance or Mahagathbandhan got 9% of the Rajput votes while 55% of the Rajputs voted for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
It is believed that with the Lok Sabha election just a year away, Nitish is trying to woo Rajput votes.
“Obviously, the release of Mohan has been done with an eye on elections. After the death of Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Narendra Singh, there was a vacuum of Rajput leadership in the RJD. Jagdanand Singh, has not been able to win the support of his community. In such a situation, Anand Mohan can fill in the gap,” said D M Diwakar, social scientist and former director of A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies.
A political observer based in Madhepura, Pradeep Kumar Jha, doesn’t see any major impact that Singh could have in the upcoming elections. “His influence over the people especially over the Rajput community has shrunk during his jail term. Also, people irrespective of their castes seem more sharply divided over Central and State politics. The Rajput community constitutes below 10% voters in Kosi and Seemanchal,” he said.
“Even his organisation ‘Friends of Anand’, once very active in these regions, has been tepid and it is not easy to revive them now as several Rajput leaders have emerged during his absence.”
Speaking publicly for the first time after being granted remission by the Bihar government, Singh on Thursday said he was innocent in the murder case. Notably neither Araria BJP MP nor local BJP MLA shared dais with Singh during the function organised to unveil the statue of Veer Kunwar Singh.
Acceptability among other castesIt is said that Singh has wide acceptability among other upper castes including Bhumihars as well. This was seen many times. In 1994, he defeated Lalu Prasad’s party in Vaishali through cooperation between Bhumihars and Rajputs. Then he made his wife, Lovely Anand, win the independent election from there.
A general perception among RJD and JD (U) leaders is that Singh would help in polarisation in Seemanchal and Kosi region. However, analysts said that people did not want to relive the era of the 1990s.