The morning after Hindustan’s bureau chief Rajdev Ranjan was shot dead, Siwan was noticeably quiet. The opposition had not called for a bandh, tea stalls and paan shops were without the groups that usually discuss an event of this scale, and shopkeepers near the murder spot denied they had seen anything. And when asked for Rajdev Ranjan’s address, most people said they did not know.
Ranjan, who was shot on May 13, had covered crime and court reports relating to jailed RJD leader Mohammed Shahabuddin. Five local youths have been arrested and police said they had been hired by supari killer Laddan Mian, whom they described as close to the former MP. Police are now looking at call details of at least 40 phones to establish a connection to Shahabuddin.
In Siwan town, the pucca house Rajdev had built was locked Saturday. Here, too, no one seemed to know where the family had gone until a shopkeeper, who knows the family well but wouldn’t give his name, finally directed The Indian Express to the family home home at Hakkamgaon on the town’s outskirts.
“Everyone knows who killed Rajdev but who can name him?” said Rajdev Ranjan’s elder brother Kalicharan.
Hakkamgaon is a village of 300-odd households, many of them of Yadavs who use the surname Choudhary, and who make a living as small farmers or daily wagers. Rajdev’s nephew Anshu snapped at journalists because a channel had hinted at personal enmity as the motive. “What can you do if these mediapersons too are afraid of him?”
Rajdev’s brothers Kalicharan and Gautam are both watch mechanics like their father Radhe Choudhary. “Why did they kill my brightest son just because he wrote news?” Radhe said, sitting on a charpoy while his wife Sankhesia Devi and daughter-in-law Asha Ranjan sobbed near him. “We are small people with little resources.”
He has built his pucca house with a lifetime’s earnings. At one end of the house hung a cage with a parrot. Paddy sacks were piled near the entrance.
Asha regained her composure enough to speak on Sunday. Consoled by her son Ashish, who is waiting for his Class 10 results, Asha said her husband had got calls from RJD leader Upendra Singh, who has been detained but not yet named in the case. “There were always veiled threats that my husband should not write too much on Shahabuddin,” she said. “Upendra tried to offer him bricks from his kiln.”
Shahabuddin, 49, whose crime record goes back to 1986 when he was a teenager, entered politics in 1990 as Lalu Prasad sought to tap young Muslim leaders to build an M-Y combination. MLA in 1990 and 1995, MP four times between 1996 and 2004, he won on RJD and Janata Dal tickets until he was barred from contesting polls following his conviction in 2007 in a murder case.
Many in Siwan used to be terrified of his men for alleged extortion demands and violent attacks on political opponents, particularly of the Left. The reign appeared to have ended after his arrest in November 2005, with new chief minister Nitish Kumar taking over on the promise of restoring law and order. A special court inside Siwan jail started to try Shahabuddin for 18 cases of murder, extortion and under the Arms Act. His political clout dwindling, he fielded his wife Heena Shahab from Siwan but she lost in 2009 as well as 2014.
In 2014, Nitish joined hands with Lalu. That September, the two leaders addressed a meeting in Chhapra for a bypoll. With them was Heena, sharing the dais with Nitish for the first time. She was seen whispering into Nitish’s ears. He looked expressionless.
In the months that followed, Shahabuddin was allowed more visitors. These meetings soon turned into durbars where he would listen to people’s grievances, jail sources said.
Social Justice Minister Abdul Ghafur went to meet him in jail recently. CM Nitish did not take any action against the minister but the jail superintendent was suspended.
“Though we allow visitors to meet Shahabuddin between 8 am and noon, not more than 15 people should meet him. Once when I tried to control the number of visitors, many pushed their way to the meeting,” said the new jail superintendent, Vidhu Bhardwaj. “Yes, it was like holding a court. He behaved like a dabang (muscleman).”
Bhardwaj said he is relieved Shahabuddin was shifted to Bhagalpur jail this month. “Since he had not faced any trial since December, he had to be shifted to a central jail as per the jail manual’s rule on life sentence convicts,” Bhardwaj said.
Since June 2014, three murders in Siwan, including that of Rajdev Ranjan, have been linked directly to indirectly to Shahabuddin. That month, Rajiv Roshan, 34, was killed when he was coming home on a motorcycle. Shahabuddin and his son Osama have been named in the murder case.
Rajiv was a brother of 2004 murder victims Satish and Girish, which is now known as the acid attack case, and for which Shahabuddin is serving life. Gangsters had been demanding a cut for “settling” a dispute between the family and one of their tenants. Faced with resistance, the gangsters kidnapped the three brothers, drenched Girish and Satish in acid and shot them dead. Rajiv, who escaped, was a eyewitness to the case and was murdered ahead of testifying.
“Shahabuddin was eyeing our property, which we resisted. I have paid the price with the life of three sons. I have been killed thrice,” said their father Chandrakeshwar Prasad, who runs a store. His youngest son Nitish said, “Roshan bhaiya had been married a month when he was shot. His wedding album had not yet arrived from the studio.”
In November 2014 came the murder of Srikant Bharati, press adviser to BJP Siwan MP Om Prakash — who had defeated Heena in 2009 and 2014. Shahabuddin’s aide Upendra Singh, the RJD leader, has been named as conspirator.
BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said with Shahabuddin elevated to the RJD’s top decision-making body in its national executive, one could guess the clout he holds. Modi dared Nitish to get Shahabuddin out of the RJD national executive.