The Rediff Special/ Soroor Ahmed
A decade ago, as an independent MLA, Mohammad Shahabuddin slapped an invigilator who objected to his presence at his wife's examination centre.
The MLA later apologised and offered his cheek to be slapped in return when the teachers went on strike. But nobody dared to take up that offer.
Last Thursday, Shahabuddin, now a Rashtriya Janata Dal Member of Parliament from Siwan, Bihar, reportedly slapped a police official outside another examination centre for letting a student cheat.
The police retaliated, giving a totally different colour to that incident. They raided Shahabuddin's house in Pratapur and exchanged fire with his supporters. Twelve people died in that incident.
From a person charged in 30 criminal cases to a 'reformer', Shahabuddin has covered an admirable distance in the last few years. Today he is a law unto himself. He has scant regard for the administrative or police machinery.
Admired by some, hated by many, he owes his rise to a number of factors. His campaign for fair examinations and his bold stand against many police excesses have won him the respect of many critics.
Thus, the man who started out as a lumpen and graduated into the world of gangsterism now owns an 'image' all of his own -- so what if it is not too clean?
The youth of Bihar sees in him a magnetic blend of criminal and crusader. He's no saint, they know, but he is still their hero: Has he not built medical and engineering colleges in Siwan? Has he not ended extortion?
SHAHABUDDIN was born into a lower middle-class family. The first case against him was lodged on May 11, 1985. Two more cases followed in the same year, one of which was for an attempt to murder and illegal possession of arms.
By March 1990, when he became the independent MLA from Jiradie, the native place of India's first President Dr Rajendra Prasad, he had 12 cases against him, three of which were for murder.
In the last 11 years, 18 more cases under various sections have been added to this list, including the killings of Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Chandrashekar and a lawyer.
Shahabuddin owes his rise to several politicians. One of his godfathers is Samata Bihar legislature party leader Uma Shankar Singh.
Singh continues to stand solidly by Shahabuddin, demanding that a murder case be lodged against Superintendent of Police B S Meena for the Pratapur killings.
Shahabuddin, with Singh's support, defeated Congress MLA Dr Tribhuwan Singh in 1985. Later, in 1990, the landed upper castes of Rajput, Bhumihar, Brahmin and Kayastha used him to counter the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).
In 1995 the Janata Dal gave Shahabuddin an assembly ticket. Next year, he managed a Lok Sabha seat from Siwan. He has won all the three elections thereafter comfortably.
Shahabuddin's hold over the Siwan and Jiradie assembly segments is nearly complete. It is from the other four segments of this Lok Sabha constituency that the opposition gets its votes.
The MP was never a favourite with the dalits of Siwan. And the Yadavs were a divided house -- some with him, others against.
There was no question of a Muslim-Yadav alliance here from the very beginning. In fact, his rival within the RJD, Awadh Bihari Chaudhary, a minister in the Rabri Devi cabinet, is a Yadav.
THERE are many in Bihar who sees Shahabuddin as a bully and not the daredevil he's supposed to be. They say that since he has enjoyed the backing of political powers, he has always had the upper hand.
They cite the example of the 1996 parliamentary election during which Shahabuddin opened fire on SP S K Singhal. A few days later Singhal withdrew his complaint saying that no such incident took place.
Shahabuddin has fully exploited the Bihari's disillusionment against the official machinery and police.
Since his coming, doctors in Siwan take just Rs 30 (as against the criminal fees they used to extort before), government servants reach office on time, basic amenities are far better...
On the dark side, such is the fear that Shahabuddin has spread that, expect for one, no opposition party dares to even raise its flag in Siwan. Only the CPI (ML) has stood up against him, in the process losing several of its cadres including Chandrashekar.
There is, however, an individual who has launched a crusade against him: Virendra Kumar Pandey, the owner of sugar and distillery unit in Siwan. The Supreme Court had recently asked the state government to provide him security.
A former Congress MLA, he is now with the BJP. He fears he may be thrown out from the party because of his campaign.
"But even [Home Minister L K] Advani cannot save Shahabuddin," Pandey says. "The case against him is very strong."
Design: Lynette Menezes.
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