New Delhi: Anant Singh, elected three times as an MLA from Mokama in Bihar on the Janata Dal (United)’s ticket, was arrested and sent to 14 days of judicial custody on Wednesday on charges of kidnapping and murder. After increased pressure from the opposition as well as his ally Lalu Prasad, Nitish had no option but to order the police to act. Around 500 policemen, equipped with sophisticated weapons and even land mine-resistant vehicles were sent to arrest him.
So who is Anant Singh and how does he command such clout despite being named in more than 150 cases including murder, extortion, kidnapping and land grabbing? Why has he evaded legal action till now? What made him flourish under the leadership of the same man who claims to have finished ‘Jungle Raj’ in Bihar?
What made Nitish Kumar, the Mr. Clean of Bihar politics, promote such a man, and what finally led to his arrest?
Anant Singh, known as ‘Chhote Sarkar’ in Bihar, has been a familiar name to me since my childhood. His ancestral village, Ladma, is just a few kilometres from mine. Both fall in the Barh Lok Sabha constituency, once held by Nitish Kumar. Barh is notorious for its ‘caste wars’ amongst Rajputs and Bhumihars. Such was the image of this area that passengers travelling by train between Kolkata and Patna would vacate their reserved seats for local passengers from here who often travel without a valid ticket. Those who demurred would be beaten badly; the ticketless travellers of this area were a law unto themselves.
At the peak of the caste wars fought between the two prominent ‘forward’ communities of the area, Anant Singh emerged as the self-proclaimed Robin Hood for the Bhumihars. For the Rajputs, Yadavs and other ‘rival’ communities, he was, of course, a dreaded villain.
Growing up, we would hear daily stories of kidnapping and murder. Kidnapping was the most lucrative business in Bihar during the Jungle Raj of Lalu Prasad. Although in the late 1990s, Anant Singh had not yet earned the notoriety of Shahabuddin – the criminal-turned-politician nurtured by Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal – his name had already become synonymous with abduction, murder, extortion and land grabbing in the Barh-Mokama-Barahiya belt. His close associates often share a story of how he swam across a river to kill the murderers of his eldest brother.
I vividly remember the day when my father was transferred from Patna to Mokama. He was employed with the Public Works Department. My grandmother and mother were crying as if a close relative had passed away—such was the impact of the transfer on them. So notorious was Anant Singh that when my father would kick-start his blue Bajaj Chetak to go to office, the entire neighbourhood would turn up to see him off, as if he may never come back from a dangerous quest. Adults in the area would reach home as early as possible; the sound of bullets and country-made bombs were often heard during the night.
Anant Singh was a wanted criminal till 2005, playing hide and seek with the law. But his fortunes changed when Nitish kumar decided to field him from Mokama on a JD (U) ticket. Riding high on the Nitish wave and with some support from his caste members, he won the election. While Nitish was being praised for ending 15 years of mayhem in Bihar, a man known for kidnapping and murder entered the Bihar assembly with impunity.
Now an MLA, Anant Singh would often attend the assembly session, riding to the house on his Delhi-built custom buggy, in full public view with his armed men following their leader in SUVs. During Nitish’s regime, thousands of criminals were sent to jail, but no one dared to touch Anant. Soon, most of the construction tenders of the Barh NTPC went to Singh and his men. He owned several Mercedes cars, a shopping mall at a prime location in Patna, and two posh hotels. He is also the proud owner of an elephant, four horses and a pet python which he was forced to release after protests from animal right groups. His nefarious activities continued. When a reporter from NDTV went to interview him sometime in 2007 after his name cropped up in a case of rape and murder, Singh not only kept the journalist hostage for hours but also beat him up. Nitish chose not to act against his MLA.
But equations have changed since then. Once arch rivals, Lalu and Nitish are now partners in a grand coalition that hopes to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA in Bihar. In this new situation, Anant is clearly a liability—his arrest is an attempt by Nitish Kumar to ensure that his clean image remains untarnished. At the same time, it also pleases his ally Lalu.
Anant Singh had helped Nitish wrest many constituencies in past with his clout over Bhumihar votes. Today, Nitish Kumar has calculated that Bhumihars are in any case most likely to go with the BJP in the upcoming assembly polls. By arresting the ‘Don of Mokama’, Nitish is hoping to please the Yadavs and Rajputs, who will be a crucial vote base for him. Chhote Sarkar, who once ran a parallel state in the region, suddenly finds himself dispensable. And in jail.