Saturday, December 04, 2004

"I carry a 1 lakh prize on my head, but no police will ever touch me"

Ranvir Sena thumbs nose, warns of 'final war'

VARGHESE K GEORGE

GAYA: In a Gaya village, we wait outside a fortress-like house till word comes. Finally, its occupant Satyendra Sharma emerges, gun by his side, acolytes around him. He introduces himself as the Gaya district chief of the Ranvir Sena. "There is a Rs 1 lakh prize on my head. But no police will dare touch me," he declares.

Hours away, in Patna's State Secretariat, Justice Amir Das is presiding over a commission, appointed immediately after the Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre of December 1997. His brief is to investigate the political connections of the Ranvir Sena, and the commission should have finished its work in 1998.

"But the politicians I had summoned sought repeated adjournments. Now I hope to finish the report in the next six months," says Justice Das.

The politicians summoned by the commission makes for an all-party conference— Union Minister of State for Agriculture Akilesh Singh (RJD), former union minister C P Thakur (BJP), state Congress unit president Ram Jatan Sinha are among the 37 called in. In all, 336 witnesses have deposed before the commission. However, two leaders of the Ranvir Sena whom The Indian Express interviewed were confident they would get around the law, commission or no.

The media-savvy Sharma, who poses for photographs with his face covered, is clear: "Surrendering before the police is humiliating. I'll die rather than surrender." For him, it's a matter of community pride—Ranvir Baba, after whom the Sena is named, was a legendary Bhumihar warior who fought the Rajputs.

Sharma is a government servant, employed by the State Health Department. He has not attended office for years. He has even been declared an absconder, accused of murder. "But they have not dismissed me as yet," he says, almost beaming.

Sharma talks of the "final war". "I am serving the public without taking any salary," he says. "This is public service. Our fight is for pride. We will not give up until we finish them or we are finished." The other Ranvir Sena leader met us in a Patna hotel. He didn't want to be photographed, didn't even give us his name. His cronies called him "Netaji". Asked which party he was the "netaji" of, he says, "People call me sarvadaleeya (all-party man)." He boasts about ministers who host him in Delhi and Patna, senior police officials who are friends.

THE Ranvir Sena was formed in Belaur village in Bhojpur district in the early 1990s. It began as a confederation of small private armies maintained by landlords. Virtually every Bhumihar household in the Magadh region has been forced to accept the Sena's supremacy as custodian of the community's interests.

"They do [not] let us cultivate land unless we pay a levy to them," says a Bhumihar lawyer in Jehanabad. With the money thus collected, weapons are procured, legal defence is organised, and elections are fought—under various party banners.

Given this penetration, "disbanding" the Ranvir Sena, as governments and ministers periodically promise, seems a forlorn hope. Bihar must await a miracle.

Source: The Indian Express, December 04, 2004

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