Shahabuddin’s Conviction: People’s Victory Against Criminalisation of Politics

People’s Petition Submitted on May 16 to Lok Sabha Speaker and President of India

The subject of criminalisation of politics is one that concerns the entire nation closely. It is deeply disturbing that on the one hand, our polity is tolerant of ‘fake encounters’ (summary executions) of alleged criminals and terrorists, while our highest representative body – Indian Parliament – harbours people caught red-handed in acts of human trafficking, and convicted on charges of abduction and suspected murder. There is a tendency to tacitly justify the police killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh by suggesting that he was, after all, a ‘criminal’ or even a ‘terrorist’. At the same time, Mohammad Shahabuddin, a convicted criminal whose reign of terror is notorious, enjoys the privilege of being a Member of Parliament. ‘Crime’ is used as a cover to justify State terror, while the State itself patronises and protects criminals – even those convicted by a court of law. The implications of this trend for Indian democracy are dangerous.
The conviction and life sentence of the sitting MP from Siwan, Mohammad Shahabuddin, by a Siwan sessions Court is a remarkable victory of a determined people’s struggle against a notorious criminal politician. Shahabuddin has been sentenced to life on charges of abduction and suspected murder of a CPI(ML) activist Chhote Lal Gupta eight years ago. The steadfastness and tenacity of the witnesses in the face of a terror campaign by the MP has resulted in this conviction. 
Now the question faces us: will Parliament honour this people’s victory and this court judgement, and expel a convicted criminal from the precincts of Parliament? Will Parliament respect the norms of democracy and expel those involved in human trafficking from its ranks?
We would like to remind you that ten years ago, Chandrashekhar, a young activist who had left the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in order to work among the poor and dispossessed in his hometown Siwan, was gunned down in broad daylight by Shahabuddin’s henchmen. Following a movement led by students and teachers of JNU, a CBI probe was eventually ordered into the killing. Is it not indeed strange that a local Court in Siwan should be able to deliver justice within eight years while the CBI should be unable even to frame a chargesheet after an entire decade?
We the undersigned – concerned citizens of this country as well as the people of Siwan – appeal to you to intervene to ensure:
•         Immediate dismissal from parliament of convicted MP Mohammad Shahabuddin, as well as MPs accused of human trafficking Babubhai Katara and others;
•         Speedy completion of CBI probe into Chandrashekhar’s murder

Signatories included Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy for the JNU Teachers’ Association, Prof. Rizwan Qaiser for the Jamia Teachers’ Association, Prof. Anuradha Chenoy of JNU, Profs. Tripta Wahi and Vijay SIngh of DU, educationist Anil Sadgopal, eminent journalist Sukumar Muralidharan, Prof. Mohan Rao of JNU, Jean Dreze, visiting Professor, Allahabad University, filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, Pranay Krishna, general Secretary of JSM, Satyadev Ram, ex-MLA, Mairwa, and Amarnath Yadav, MLA, Darauli, among others.

Fourteen years ago, the Vohra Committee submitted its recommendations to curb criminalisation of politics – but these never saw the light of day. R.K. Narayanan, as President on the occasion of the golden jubilee celebrations of the Republic in 2001, spoke out against criminalization of politics. But Parliament is yet to take any action against the most notorious of its members - Md. Shahabuddin, recently sentenced to life imprisonment in a case of abduction and suspected killing of CPI(ML) activist Comrade Chhote Lal Gupta. he has also been sentenced to 2 years imprisonment for attacking the CPI(ML) office, while around 40 more cases of murder, kidnapping, having illegal arms like AK-47 etc., as well as the CBI inquiry into Comrade Chandrashekhar murder case, are still pending against him.
However, even after he has been sentenced with life imprisonment, though extremely belatedly, not a single political party, barring CPI(ML), has come out categorically, demanding his dismissal  from parliament! Whatever the People’s Representation Act may say in this regard, if MPs can be summarily dismissed for cash in query episode, why can’t such an exceptional criminal be at least suspended from the highest institution of democracy in the land, even after he has been proven guilty by court for abducting a citizen to kill?
The reasons for this criminal apathy on the part of ruling parties of all hues are not far to seek. Can one expect it from the Congress or other UPA partners and supporters, who stand to lose one MP and antagonise an ally like Laloo Prasad? Should one expect it from BJP or NDA, whose   leader and now the Dy. CM of ruling JD(U)-BJP combine, Sushil Modi and leaders of the then Samata Party, the predecessor of today‘s Nitish Kumar‘s JD(U), had complained of police bias and excesses against Shahabuddin, during the Pratappur shoot-out episode, expecting Shahabuddin to rebel against Laloo and help them topple Rabri govt. and form their own! It is not surprising that even CPI(M)-CPI have not come out with any demand for action against him. Somnath Chatterjee, so pro-active on corruption issues, is not ready to take any initiative to ‘uphold the dignity of the Parliament’ by ousting this criminal. All recall that as CPI(M) General Secretary Harkishan Singh Surjit had even campaigned for Shahabuddin during the last parliamentary elections.
Actually criminalization of politics no more hits the headlines of media, nor does it worry the ruling political parties, thanks to the grand consensus among them regarding their great use-value in winning elections and grabbing power! In fact one often finds jealous competition among political parties to win mafias to their fold, and often governmental power is used to do so. In the much hyped ‘clean’ elections of UP, almost all mafia-criminal turned politicians have won the elections, most of them as respected candidates of national political parties!
In this scenario, the indictment and life imprisonment for Shahabuddin is certainly a great people’s victory, thanks to the consistent and vigorous movement, launched by CPI(ML) all these years, against all odds. It has shown how the criminalization of politics can actually be fought and defeated.
When all political parties surrendered before the reign of terror unleashed by the Shahabuddin gang and practically withdrew from the political scene, it was CPI(ML) alone which  fearlessly conducted a resistance struggle against him, of course, paying a heavy price with the martyrdom of many of its leaders and supporters. After the assassination of Comrade Chandrashekhar, the ex-president of JNUSU, a powerful and popular student movement erupted, forcing the then Gujral Govt. to order CBI inquiry into the case. Kaushalya Devi, Chandrashekhar’s mother, was at the forefront of the struggle for justice for the entire decade. It is really a matter of shame for the apex investigating agency of the country and reflects the political patronage enjoyed by Shahabuddin that even after a decade, the CBI is yet to chargesheet Shahabuddin in the case!

People of Siwan Hold Dharna at Parliament Demanding Shahabuddin’s Dismissal
On May 16, thousands of people from Siwan held a Dharna at Parliament Street demanding dismissal of Shahabuddin and completion of the CBI probe into Chandrashekhar’s murder. The Dharna was presided over by CPI(ML) MLA from Darauli Comrade Amarnath Yadav. Partiicpants from Siwan included former MLA from Mairwa Satyadev Ram, AIALA District Secretary from Siwan Jugal Thakur, Jaynath Yadav, member of the party District Committee, Naimuddin Ansari, former mukhia and District Committee member, RYA leader Ravindra Bharti, and several others. Participants from Delhi included Swami Agnivesh of the Bandhua Mukto Morcha, Mujtaba Farooque of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Rakesh Rafiq of Yuva Bharat, Tanweer Fazal, lecturer at Jamia Millia Islamia and representative of Forum for Democratic Initiatives, Sandeep SIngh, General Secretary JNUSU, KK Pande, editor, Janmat, Pranay Krishna, former JNUSU President and General Secretary, Jan Sanskriti Manch, and Kavita Krishnan, editorial board, Liberation.
The highlight of the dharna was when Comrade Shital Paswan, main eyewitness in the Chhote Lal Gupta abduction case, spoke of his experience. Eight years ago, he said, Comrade Chhote Lal was summoned by Shahabuddin into his vehicle and whisked away. The next morning, a struggle began that still goes on. The police wouldn’t file an FIR – until the CPI(ML) gheraoed the thana for hours. Since then, Shital Paswan has hardly been able to stay with his family. His family has been approached several times with threats and bribes alike (the proffered bribe has been upto a crore rupees). Even his cousin in Delhi was approached and told to warn him to shut up. Yet, he gave evidence in Court – and it was his evidence that nailed Shahabuddin.        
Shital Paswan recalled how Shahabuddin has been acquitted in several other cases involving the murder of BJP or JD(U) supporters, because the witnesses turned hostile, and in some cases, these parties did not even lodge an FIR. By contrast, Shital Paswan is proud of standing firm, not fearing for his life, and caring to sell his conscience. Shital Paswan displays the kind of stubborn courage characteristic of the ML movement itself in Siwan.

- Lal Bahadur Singh