Confessions from Bihar's Killing Fields Set to Singe BJP, and Nitish Too

A sting operation by Cobrapost has caught six hardened Ranveer Sena killers admitting to their crimes and naming former PM Chandra Shekhar and the BJP's Yashwant Sinha, Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushil Singh Modi as leaders who helped the Sena

A sting operation by Cobrapost has caught six hardened Ranveer Sena killers admitting to their crimes and naming former PM Chandra Shekhar and the BJP’s Yashwant Sinha, Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushil Singh Modi as leaders who helped the Sena

Credit: Ishan Khosla

Credit: Ishan Khosla

New Delhi: The Ranveer Sena—responsible for killing hundreds of Dalits in Central Bihar between 1994 and 2000—enjoyed the backing of prominent politicians including former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar and senior BJP leaders Yashwant Sinha, Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushil Singh Modi, the investigative news portal Cobrapost.com claimed on Monday, citing surreptitiously recorded conversations with six Sena members involved in some of the worst massacres of that period.

Posing as a filmmaker interested in making a documentary about the notorious private army of Bihar’s upper caste landlords, Cobrapost Associate Editor K. Ashish managed in the course of a year-long investigation to get Sena leaders to open up about their role in the planning and execution of these crimes, and about the help they received from prominent political leaders connected to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

But if the expose is likely to prove embarrassing to the BJP in the run up to assembly elections in Bihar later this year, it is also a reminder of the controversial decision Nitish Kumar took as Chief Minister in 2005 to disband an inquiry into the massacres because the judge heading the probe had begun to document the role played by senior leaders from the BJP—to which he was allied at the time.

The findings of the investigation, codenamed Operation Black Rain, were revealed by Cobrapost editor Aniruddha Bahal at a press conference here on Monday. The six accused Ranveer Sena men caught on camera are Chandkeshwar alias Chandreshwar, Pramod Singh, Bhola Singh, Arvind Kumar Singh, Siddhnath Singh and Ravindra Chaudhry.

Not only are they seen admitting to their roles in the massacre of 144 destitute Dalits that shocked the nation – Bathani Tola, Laxmanpur Bathe, Shankar Bigha, Miyanpur and Ikwari – but they also also reveal some of the Sena’s shocking strategies which failed to materialise, such as the plan to carry out up to 50 massacres in 50 different villages in a single day.

According to Bahal, “these mass murderers not only reveal how they planned and carried out indiscriminate killings on such scale with the precision and ruthlessness of a war machine but also candidly admit who trained them, who armed them, who financed them and who lent them political support, naming some big-time politicians.”

Role of Chandra Shekhar

Most shocking among these was the revelation by Siddhnath Singh, an aide of the late Ranveer Sena chief Brahmeshwar Singh, who claimed that the Sena cadre received “military reject” arms with the help from the then Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar. According to Cobrapost, after his arrest Singh told the police that “… toh woh military ka rejected saman tha wahi hum logon ko uplabdh hua tha … hum kahe uplabdh hua tha jab pradhan mantri humare huye the … Chandra Shekhar … (… I told them we got them from Indian military as rejected lot … we got the arms with help from our Prime Minister … I said Chandra Shekhar …).”

The arms, Siddhnath said, were delivered through Surya Dev, a powerful politician from Dhanbad and a close friend of Chandra Shekhar. He also admitted to his involvement in six massacres, and gave a chilling account of the bloodbath at Laxmanpur Bathe, where 58 Dalits, including 27 women and 16 children, were gunned down by the Sena cadre.

The other big name who figures in the Cobrapost investigation is Yashwant Sinha, who held the Finance and External Affairs portfolios during the NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Pramod Singh, who was accused in the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre but was acquitted by the Patna High Court, can be seen narrating how Sinha helped the Sena both financially and politically. “Bhajapa ka sarkar jiss samay tha … Atal Bihari Vajpai thhe … uss samay the Yashwant Sinha … barabar aate the … mukhiya ji se barabar milte thhe  (it was when there was the BJP government [at the Centre] … there was Atal Bihari Vajpayee … there was Yashwant Sinha … he would visit regularly … meet the Mukhiya [Brahmeshwar Singh] regularly). He also claimed that Sinha paid Rs 5.5 lakh in cash to the Sena in support.

Similarly, Singh recounts how Jehanabad MP Arun Kumar of the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party – currently part of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre – actually helped Sena cadre members flee by taking them away in his own car. “Farar stithi mein … jaise maan lijiye police gher li … paanch chheh logon ko nikalna hai jaise Arun Kumar thhe Jahanabad saansad wahan pahunch jaate thay apni gadi se jo log thhe sabko nikal dete thhe … (When on the run … suppose the police had closed in about us … five–six people were be evacuated … then Arun Kumar, the Jehanabad MP, would reach the spot and would escort away all of them in his car … ).”

Scuttling of probe

The investigation by Cobrapost has also pointed to a deliberate political play behind the “abrupt dismissal” of the Justice Amir Das Commission of Inquiry—which the Laloo Prasad government had set up in 1997 in the wake of the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre—as soon as the JD(U)–BJP alliance came to power in 2005.

Making it clear that the termination of the enquiry was “not a coincidence”, Justice (Retd.) Das categorically states that it was because his report could have implicated some prominent politicians that he was asked to shut shop.

“Kuchh ka naam toh bata sakte hain jaise Shivanand Tewari hain, C.P. Thakur hain. Murli Manohar Joshi hain aur Sushil Kumar Modi aur ek mukhiya thhe naam tha unka uss gaon mein Laxmanpur Bathe ke bagal me conclusion aya hai ki wo bhi support karte thhe (I can tell some names, for instance, Shivanand Tewari, C.P. Thakur, Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushil Kumar Modi. Then there was a head of a village in the neighbourhood of Laxmanpur Bathe about whom we had drawn the conclusion that he too supported [the Ranveer Sena]).”

The investigation also gives out gory details of the manner in which innocent villagers, women and children, were massacred. It has Chandkeshwar, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by the lower courts for his involvement in Laxmanpur Bathe massacre but let off by the Patna High Court on October 13, 2013, speaking about how he beheaded five fishermen, who he suspected to be CPI(ML) supporters, so as to save the cost of bullets.

Training by soldiers?

Chandkeshwar’s account also brings out how the Sena went on its killing spree with the “precision and ruthlessness of a war machine” because of its military-grade weaponry, and the training it allegedly received from army jawans either on leave or retired.. The Laxmanpur Bathe massacre on December 1, 1997, for instance, was carried out with LMGs, automatics, SLRs and Mausers, which helps account for the fact that the killers left 58 dead bodies behind in less than 30 minutes. According to Cobrapost, some of these arms were bought from the consignment that was part of the Purulia arms drop on December 17, 1995.

Ravindra Chaudhry, whom Cobrapost caught up with at Belaur village in Bhojpur, spoke about how the Sena had even drawn up a plan to execute massacres across 50 villages in order to “wake the government from its torpor”, and make it realise that “castes other than the minorities, most backward and backward live in this country.”

Chaudhry further claimed that political heavyweights like Anand Mohan Singh (now serving a life imprisonment term  in a murder case) of the Bihar People’s Party were willing to help them: “… Anand Mohan aaye bechare poora keh gya ki humare paas hathiyron ka jakhira hai jo jo hathiyar lena chahte ho aaker le jao (… Anand Mohan came and told us that he has a cache of all kinds of arms. Whatever you need you can pick).”

Cobrapost says that it managed to locate Upendra Magiha, the most wanted among Sena cadres on the run. However, Magiha, who in the words of fellow Sena-member Sanjiv Singh “has murdered hundreds but is really a very simple and innocent fellow”, refused to meet the team.

The picture that emerges from the expose is of upper caste politicians and strongmen across party lines rallying behind the Ranveer Sena and actively providing its dreaded killers with support and protection. The allegation is all the more grave considering the Sena has been designated a terrorist group by the Bihar government and also banned by the Centre.

The Ranveer Sena was formed by Dharicharan Singh of Bhojpur district in 1994 to counter rising unrest among the mostly Dalit farm labourers who had started protesting against their exploitation under the banner of CPI-ML (Liberation), the Left party that emerged from underground in 1992 to openly organise the peasantry.

Brahmeshwar Singh Mukhiya subsequently turned the private army of upper caste landowners into a killing machine which carried out 16 massacres, slaughtering about 300 Dalits in about six years. However, most Sena killers have been set free by the courts for lack of evidence. Some of the acquittals have since been challenged in the Supreme Court

The Cobrapost videos can be seen here.

Note: This article was edited to correct an incorrect reference to the CPI (ML) Liberation as an “underground” party at the time the Ranveer Sena was launched. The party, in fact, came overground in 1992.