Monday, October 12, 2009

E Gandhi Baba Kahan Rauaa Bani?

About a year ago, I happened to visit Motihari. Today, I found some notes in my diary. It set me thinking.

Two years prior to that visit, then railway minister Lalu Yadav had chosen to change the name of Motihari railway station to Bapu Dham Motihari as the region had been the workplace of Mahatma Gandhi during the Satyagraha Andolan urging people to make non-violence their weapon to achieve freedom from the British.

However, the move has proved to be only a symbolic one as Motihari — which has perhaps seen some of the most gruesome political killings in Bihar — continues to witness unabated crime and remain a hotbed for smuggling of narcotics among other things. Due to the killings, tensions and fights of attrition between a number of crimelord-turned MPs and MLAs continue to take toll on the development of the town which could have otherwise been developed into a potential tourist destination as it has several links to the Mahatma and the freedom movement.

As I roamed about on the streets of the town, several busts and statues installed at important and busy places gave an idea of the “aggressive mood” of Motihari where the Mahatma once went all out preaching principles of non-violence. Near the railway station, there is a statue of Maharana Pratap, brandishing a sword, which was installed in 2003 on the occasion of Vijay Dashmi by the then RJD minister Rama Devi. Countering the move, a statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji, again with a sword, can be seen at the bus stand which was installed by the local BJP MP Radhamohan Singh. Not only this, about half a dozen other busts and statues of historical personalities, including that of Rani Lakshmi Bai, in aggressive postures with arms in hands can be seen at places located in the heart of the town. However, some of them lie in ruins with garbage strewn around them.

This aggression was more than reflected when the most pronounced protest against the MNS was reported from Motihari. Harshvardhan, a local, said, “Instead of addressing the problems such as lack of adequate drinking water, electricity and motorable roads, these were unveiled during the RJD dispensation. Later other parties too chose the same idea to score over their rivals.” But unlike the practice witnessed in the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, these statutes were not bulldozed and brought down when a change of guard took place in the state. At Gandhi Chowk, there is a huge statue of the Mahatma too but, if locals are to be believed, it has been reduced to be a mere “landmark” for those looking for booze due to the wine shops located at a stone’s throw distance.

An IPS officer posted in Motihari told me, “Hundreds of people have been killed here in caste wars involving groups led by Rajput and Bhumihar leaders over a period of time. The trouble began when two brothers of Don Munna Shukla, currently LJP MLA from Lalganj, were killed. Even the infamous killing of the then Mujaffarpur DM took place during the death procession of one of his slain brothers. In retaliation, RJD minister and MLA from Adapur Brijbihari Prasad was shot dead in a typical gangster style killing inside a hospital. Later, Brijbihari’s wife Rama Devi made it to the state assembly from the Motihari constituency and also became a minister.” Police records say three Dons – Munna Shukla, Govindganj MLA Rajan Tiwary and LJP MP from Balia in Begusarai Surajbhan Singh -- and several others were made accused for Brijbihari’s killing. There are a number of other criminal cases pending against them. Earlier, Tiwary’s uncle and Govindganj MLA Devendra Dubey had been killed allegedly at the behest of Brijbihari Prasad.

Police friends told me that smuggling has been another source of headache for the region bordering Nepal. “After a few MNCs came to India about a decade back, smuggling of computer parts, watches, chemicals, medicines and bulb filaments from Nepal has almost stopped but in what is being viewed as a bigger threat, a lot of things are now being smuggled to China via Nepal from India,” said a cop. According to him, foodgrains, lentils, fertilizers, sugar and cotton were being smuggled to Nepal through a large syndicate in connivance with customs officials causing a huge revenue loss.

To buttress his claim, he even showed lists of seizers made recently while these articles were being smuggled to Nepal and went on to say that even the Union Home Ministry was aware of this latest menace. As a local said, “The renaming of the railway station has failed to do any good for the place as it continues to be a safe haven for criminals and smugglers with people continuing to suffer from poverty, unemployment and corruption. The government has never tried to make concerted efforts and actually turn Motihari into Bapu Dham.” According to him, only that will be a real tribute to the Mahatma.

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