Even as all political parties claim to take the moral high-ground over the other, none of them have any qualms in fielding candidates with a criminal background during elections. According to a report by election watchdog Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), 31% of candidates in the 1st phase of Bihar elections 2020 have a criminal background.
While the Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) has fielded most number of candidates with a criminal background (73%), the BJP is not far behind with 72%. Many of them have cases of serious nature registered against them, including cases of crime against women.
The number of candidates with criminal cases may look excessive, there was once a time when Bihar was known for its bahubalis, who had, not one or two, but dozens of criminal cases of serious nature against them. Many of those bahubalis, a term reserved for mafia-turned-politicians, are still contesting elections while some have simply lost relevance. Some have fielded family members as a candidate in the upcoming Assembly election due to their own disqualification after conviction.
Here are five bahubalis of Bihar who have ruled Bihar's underworld over the years and continue to be indispensable to state politics:
One of the most feared bahubalis of Bihar, Anant Singh "Chhote Sarkar" was once a close associate of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar until a fallout in 2015. He was dubbed "Chhote Sarkar" (Junior government) in the Momaka-Barh belt due to his clout in the Nitish government. He faces 38 criminal cases including those of murder, extortion, kidnapping and possession of illegal weapons.
He first contested assembly election in 2005 from Mokama on a JD(U) ticket and won. He retained the seat in 2010 but quit the JD(U) in 2015 over a disagreement with Nitish Kumar. At the time, it was reported that Singh was upset due to the party's alliance with the RJD and the Congress. He contested the assembly election from Mokama as an independent and retained the seat. In 2019, he was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act after police seized an AK-47 rifle, a magazine, live cartridges and two hand grenades in raids at his ancestral home. He remains in jail since his surrender in Delhi.
This time around, he has been fielded by the RJD from Mokama. Interestingly, his wife also filed her nomination as an Independent candidate in case his nomination is rejected.
Surajbhan Singh started out as a petty criminal in rural Patna and then spread his tentacles far and wide in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, soon becoming a guardian figure of dreaded dons like Sriprakash Shukla and Rajan Tiwari of Uttar Pradesh. Surajbhan muscled his way into highly lucrative contract jobs building roads, bridges and laying railway tracks. Like many contemporaries, Surajbhan also entered politics in the 1990s and got elected to the assembly for the first time from Mokama in 2000. After helping Nitish Kumar seize power, although briefly, in the aftermath of a fractured verdict, Singh became closer to many political figures in Bihar.
LJP boss Ramvilas Paswan gave him a ticket to contest Balia seat in 2004 Lok Sabha poll which he won by an impressive margin. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2008 for killing a farmer 16 years ago. His wife won the Lok Sabha election from Munger in 2014 while his younger brother Chandan represents Balia in the current Lok Sabha
Anand Mohan Singh
One of the most feared Babubali leaders of Bihar, Anand Mohan Singh is said to have a private army in the late 1980s. He had a long-running feud with another mafia Pappu Yadav. He was elected to Bihar assembly on a Janata Dal ticket in 1990. A self-proclaimed leader of the Rajput community, he later formed Bihar People's Party (BPP) in opposition to Janata Dal's support to Mandal Commission. He was elected twice as an MP from Sheohar in 1996 and 1998. He lost the seat in 1999 Lok Sabha election.
Over the course of his political career, Singh kept switching loyalties from the JD(U) to the RJD to the Congress as he kept escaping the law despite dozens of criminal cases against him. He was convicted of murder in 2007 for inciting a mob to lynch the district magistrate of Gopalganj, in 1994. Singh was awarded death sentence and became the first former MP to be awarded such punishment. His wife, Lovely, was also convicted in the murder case by the district sessions judge, but later acquitted by the High Court. Singh challenged his conviction and sentence in the Patna High Court which commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment. His life sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court.
In the upcoming Bihar assembly election, the RJD has fielded his son Chetan Anand from Seohar while his wife Lovey is contesting from Saharsa.
Rajesh Ranjan Yadav alias Pappu Yadav once ruled Kosi region of Bihar with an iron fist and often clashed with upper-caste leaders of the area. One of his strong opponents was Rajput bahubali leader Anand Mohan Singh. After making his name in the world of crime, Pappu Yadav entered politics in 1990 and won his first assembly election from Madhepura as an independent candidate. he later went on to win Lok Sabha election in 1991, 1996, 1999, 2004 and 2014.
Like any other bahubali politician of his era, Pappu kept changing loyalties from one party to another and finally floated Jan Adhikar Party in 2015.
Even as an MP, he was accused of carrying out criminal activities, including murder. He was named an accused in the 1998 killing of CPI(M) Ajit Sarkar. A former CPI(M) legislator, Sarkar was shot dead by unidentified persons in Purnia district on June 14, 1998 and Pappu Yadav, along with several others were named as accused. He was later acquitted by the Patna High Court. According to the election affidavit filed by Pappu Yadav in 2019 Lok Sabha election, 31 cases are pending against him, out of which charges have been framed in 10 cases.
One of the most dreaded criminals of not just Bihar but north India, Mohammad Shahabuddin's rise in both politics and crime was meteoric. After being elected as an independent legislator at a young age in the early 1990s, Shahabuddin saw his fortunes rise as Lalu Yadav ruled Bihar for 15 years. After being given RJD ticket from Siwan, Shahabuddin won Siwan Lok Sabha constituency, a BJP stronghold, for the first time in 1996. He went on to win the seat again in 1998, 1999 and 2004. Such was his terror in the region that many parties were afraid to field candidates against him. And if they did, many candidates feared to openly campaign.
Over the years, Shahabuddin was accused of carrying out various criminal activities, including murder, kidnappings and extortions. After being convicted in a double-murder case, Shahabuddin is still facing dozens of case. He was lodged in Siwan jail after conviction in connection with the killing of the prime witness in the murder of two brothers by pouring acid on them. In February this year, the Supreme Court today directed that Shahabuddin be shifted to Tihar Jail.
Although an office-bearer of the RJD who supposedly still holds a clout in the party, Shahabuddin has been missing from the campaign material of Tejashwi Yadav-led Mahagathbandhan. Shahabuddin's wife, Hina Sahab, contested the Lok Sabha elections from Siwan on a RJD ticket last year but lost.
While these five may have been the most dreaded 'bahubali' of the time, the candidate list of all the parties features kin of many strongmen. Abhay Kushwaha, Awadhesh Mandal, Bindi Yadav, Ritlal Yadav, Ajay Yadav, Hulas Pandey, Ram Kishor Singh, Manoranjan Singh alias Dhumal Singh and Ranbir Yadav are some of those 'bahubalis' who remain relevant to Bihar politics and have secured tickets for themselves or for family members from major parties.
Bahubalis, who ruled Bihar for years with guns, continue to remain relevant to state politics with many parties courting their support.