Though the killing of seven upper caste people — including Sushil Pandey, the former self-styled commander of disbanded upper caste army Ranvir Sena — may not be directly linked to recent acquittals in Laxmanpur-Bathe (Arwal) massacre of 1997, it is being taken as sort of reprisal by Maoists because of its sheer timing. The incident does threaten to fuel caste tension, especially in Gaya, Aurangabad and Jehanabad and adjoining Rohtas and Kaimur. The state police have already sounded alert for south-central Bihar.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, trying hard to woo back upper caste Bhumihars in the aftermath of the murder of Ranvir Sena chief Brahmeshwar Mukhiya in June 2012, has moved swiftly in dealing with the Aurangabad incident. The government immediately shifted Aurangabad SP Daljit Singh and kept caste calculation in mind in deciding his replacement. New SP Upendra Sharma was sent to take over charge by a special helicopter. But police have been still finding it difficult to soothe frayed tempers in Pishay village to which Pandey and other landmine blast victims belonged.
On the other side, the kind of support CPI-ML national general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya got during his recent visit to Laxmanpur-Bathe suggests simmering caste tension. The anger in the twin villages is understandable as they are not yet told who killed 58 Dalits in the biggest ever Bihar caste massacre in over three decades of fight between upper caste landlords and Maoists.
Though the state government is all set to challenge the Laxmanpur-Bathe acquittals in the Supreme Court, it is getting increasingly tough to convince Bathe victims’ families and supporters about “sense of justice”.
The changing political equations in the state raise further cause of concern in maintaining caste harmony. With political parties vying with each other to win over various castes for 2014 elections, there is a threat of caste tension being aggravated.
The Chief Minister has a tough job at hand.
Santosh is a special correspondent based in Patna