On an Old Shourie Article, and its Relevance Today

[Introduction.

The following article first appeared as a syndicated Arun Shourie column in 1996. Mohammad Taslimuddin, the subject of the article, was (and is) an illustrious Bihar politician. In 1996, he had multiple criminal cases against him, including for such petty crimes as rioting and attempt to murder. Prime Minister Deve Growda had just then recruited Taslimuddin into his council of ministers. But within no time, because of the furor generated by Shourie’s article, Gowda was forced to drop Taslimuddin from the team. An embittered Taslimuddin complained against Shourie and his article to the Press Council of India. Press Council duly held a hearing. Shourie was absolved of the charge of mala fide writing, and Taslimuddin was slapped with a fine as the cost of Press Council’s proceedings for an invalid complaint.

Lo and behold, the same Taslimuddin was a made a minister again in May 2004, this time by the honest and decent Dr Manmohan Singh, and no doubt with the approval of the extremely principled Mrs Sonia Gandhi. And there still were cases on him at that time. BJP protested. The protest fell on deaf ears. Media called the protest a stunt. The Indian Express even declared that the BJP was unable to reconcile with its unexpected electoral defeat and was therefore behaving like a bad loser.

In August 2004, a court issued an arrest warrant against Taslimuddin. He evaded arrest by simply disappearing into the unbearable lightness of nothingness. I mean, he vamoosed. Media was outraged. I mean again, that the media was outraged that BJP stalled the parliament over this trivial matter of his vanishing act.

The context for this introduction to Shourie’s almost-two-decades-old article, and for reproducing it here, is the Nihal Chand case. As we go to press, Congress is all-outrage against his induction into PM Modi’s ministry. Sections of media are putting on a well-modulated outrage act too. Is that outrage justified?

Congress’s drama-baazi, of course, is just that: pure theatre. Given the Taslimuddin case, and many such others, it has no moral leg to stand on. But our fine media friends have this all-weather argument: “two wrongs don’t make a right”. Yes, they don’t. But is Nihal Chand’s case an identical “wrong” to Taslimuddin’s?

Even when an accused person is yet to face trial, the stand of jurisprudence is that he is innocent until proven guilty. Even so, a charge-sheeted person should not hold public office, till a court pronounces him innocent. On the other hand, once a person has been cleared of charges by a court, the burden of proof, doubly, and triply more so, shifts on to his accusers, till such time as a higher court may reverse the lower court’s order. Nihal Chand is in that stage. A lower court has already closed the case (investigated by a Congress government) against him. To hold his career hostage to further judicial process, which may go all the way up to Supreme Court, runs against the principles of natural justice. Our fine, outraging media pals seem oblivious to this nuance of the issue.

That said, I am not comfortable that a person who got mixed up with a rape case, and also with such other characters as those involved in that case, is a minister in PM Modi’s team. He’d do better outside of the ministry than inside, not because the suddenly-oh-so-moral, 44-seat, Congress party is blackmailing the govt, or because the media is putting on sanctimonious airs, but because it will help us all if Shri Modi would set very exacting standards that a future (god forbid!) Congress govt can be held against — or for that matter, state governments can be held to right now.

Long introduction out of the way, on to Shourie’s article.]

=========================================================

JUST A LITTLE FORTNIGHT ON THE WAY TO MINISTERSHIP

(c) Arun Shourie, 1996

At page 118 of the report of the Special Committee constituted by the Bihar
Vidhan Sabha we read : “This time I came to meet Mohammad Taslimuddin about
12-20 days ago. I then went back. I came today. There is a servant in his
house whom I know. He must be about 18 years. About seven days ago when I
was also with them, this servant had brought a sanvali girl. She was 15-16
years old. That day Taslim Sahib and two other men took the girl and went
into the room. A man called Munna had brought two-three bottles of liquor
that day on a cycle. The three together did the wrong thing with her
throughout the night. That very day Mohammad Taslimuddin had taken the
Lindeer ( sic. ) injection from me. He suffers from the garmi suzak ailment.
She went away at four in the morning. Whenever I used to come I used to see
that after a day or two a girl is brought. And with her Mohammad Taslimuddin
as well as his associates used to do the wrong thing. Munna Sen used to
bring girls regularly. Apart from him others whom I do not know also used to
bring girls. Last time also when I had come 15 days ago I gave a Pinadeer (
sic. ) injection to him. When I used to come he would say, a Santhali girl
is good, you bring one and your work will get done. Taslim Sahib would ask
for money to fix persons in jobs also….”

On page 14 of the report we read the testimony of Mrs. Zulfa , “Taslimuddin
Sahib extorts money from persons.” On the same page we read the testimony of
Mrs. Bishonra, “Taslimuddin frightens people at the point of a dagger.” On
that very page the Committee reports the testimony of Mrs. Arun Jha : ”
‘Shri Taslim had our college raided by dacoits. My husband was not here. I
was alone. I was stabbed….’ Mrs. Jha’s husband is the secretary of the
women’s degree college….” On the same page we have the testimony of Mrs.
Vimla Devi : “Taslimuddin has done a lot of dhandli. Our daughters have
stopped studying in the school. They are disgraced…. Two or three girls
have been disgraced. We wouldn’t sleep at night out of fear….”

What had happened is as follows.

At the time Mohammad Taslimuddin was a member of the Bihar Assembly. On 16th
February 1986 his house in Araria, Bihar was attached and his property was
confiscated. He alledged that the police had been high-handed. Politicians
with whose parties he was then allied — Karpoori Thakur, even George
Fernandez — lent their name and voice to the protest. As a result in its
session on February 27, 1986 the Bihar Vidhan Sabha constituted a Special
Committee of five legislators to examine the veracity of the allegations of
Taslimuddin.

After examining over seventy witnesses — Muslims and Hindus; women and men;
officials and non-officials; eye-witnesses to the events, victims,
neighbours…. — after examining the records of the police station and the
statements and records of several officials, and after some of the members
of the Committee had personally visited the place, the Committee settled on
a unanimous report on 13 July, 1988. The Committee held that the attachment
and seizure of Taslimuddin’s property had been done legally, that they had
been done on the specific orders of the Court. These orders, it turned out,
had been issued by the Judicial Magistrate after Taslimuddin had run away
upon the Court issuing non-bailable warrants for his arrest. It transpired
that police parties had been sent in search of him to his house in Araria,
in Patna, in Kishanganj. He had successfully evaded them. The police parties
had returned and their inability to find him had been reported to the
Magistrate. It was then that the Judicial Magistrate had issued orders for
the attachment and auctioning of the property so as to smoke the man out of
hiding.

But why had the warrants been issued ? What did the witnesses and records
disclose about the man ? You will of course know that this Taslimuddin is
the very man whom the Prime Minister appointed as the Minister of State for
Home, and thereby gave him access to the most sensitive files and functions
of the Indian State. The evidence which the Special Committee of the Bihar
Vidhan Sabha recorded, and the documents which they obtained form the bulk
of , the uncontroverted bulk of the report of the Committee. Everything that
follows is but a précis ( and of course translation from the original in
Hindi ) of the evidence given by witnesses to the Committee, and the
documents which the Committee gathered. Everything is taken from the printed
text of the report, and in each instance I shall indicate within parenthesis
the page number of the report at which that particular point occurs.

In 1983 the house of one Dr. N. Kumar in Araria was raided by dacoits. His
daughter had been spirited away. “What was done to her was a shame.” She was
recovered the next morning [ p. 21 ] Taslimuddin was suspected to be behind
the crime at the time [ p. 10 ]. A police dog had been pressed into service.
He had been made to sniff around Dr. Kumar’s place. He had then been let
loose. He had made his way to the house of Taslimuddin [ pp. 16, 21, 25, 27
]. Taslimuddin had gone on a hunger strike ; this is his modus operandi, the
witnesses stated, to divert attention from the facts he makes such things a
political issue, and thereby gives them a political colour [ pp. 21, 25, 111
].

There was a spate of dacoities and other crimes in Araria in January and
February 1986. On 13 January the house of the Storekeeper of the
Sub-Divisional Hospital, Avinash Kumar, was raided by dacoits. The dacoits
made off with his belongings. They wanted to abduct the sister-in-law of the
Storekeeper, but she was saved. The karamcharies of the Hospital went on
strike. The goods were recovered, but the culprits were not caught [ pp. 28,
42, 104 ]. In view of the alarming frequency of the crimes, the local
Advocates Association convened an emergency meeting on 3 February, and
passed a strongly worded resolution demanding that the administration take
immediate action to stem the deteriorating law and order situation and
forthwith arrest those responsible for the crimes [ p. 97 ] Another dacoity
took place on the night of 5/6 February, this one at the house of one Ramji
Sharma [ p. 99 ]. The entire town was incensed. The next day, that is on the
6th of February the whole town closed down : the people went on a general
strike, and there was a procession asking the administration to immediately
apprehend the criminals and those behind them [ pp. 99,100 ].

Two days later there was an even more serious dacoity. Armed men made their
way into the house of the doctor at the Sub-Divisional Hospital, Dr.
Salauddin. The doctor, his wife and little daughter were tied and
terrorized, as was a peon who happened to arrive to ask the doctor to come
to the hospital for an emergency case. The goods were looted. At last the
doctor was able to untie himself and call for help. As people from the
hospital rushed over, the dacoits fled. In the hurry one of them left a
plastic shoe he was wearing and a muffler.

The doctor filed an F.I.R. The police dog and his handler were called. The
dog sniffed the shoe and the muffler for twenty minutes. He was then let
loose, with the handler and a havaldar running after him. Sniffing and
smelling his way the dog went to the house of Taslimuddin. He made his way
to a room where Taslimuddin and a number of his people were sitting [ in the
accounts there are at all times a number of persons, including a number of
toughs hanging about at Taslimuddin’s place ]. Upon reaching the room the
dog sat down. The handler and havaldar reached after him. Which saalaa has
dared to bring the dog here, Taslimuddin shouted, thrash these damned
fellows. The handler and the havaldar were then thrashed thoroughly, they
were throttled till they almost suffocated. A gun was held to them. They
were told to write that the dog was actually an untrained one, that they had
been forced by Dr. Jha of the hospital to bring him to Taslimuddin’s house.
To save their lives they wrote whatever they were told to write. All this
happened on the 11th. Later the same day, that is the 11th a person rushed
to the hospital and told Dr. S.R. Jha that Taslimuddin Sahib wanted him
urgently. The Doctor explained that he was about to go in for operating on a
patient. The man said that it was an emergency case. Fearing Taslimuddin’s
clout and position — he was the local M.L.A. — the Doctor went to the
house. He was set upon. And told to sign a statement that it was he who had
asked the handler and the havaldar to bring the dog to Taslimuddin’s house.
Once he was able to free himself from Taslimuddin’s house Dr. Jha reported
the matter to the police. [ For the dacoity at Dr. Salauddin’s house, pp.
19, 27-29, 48, 127-29; for the events connected with the dog, pp. 39, 44-45,
124-25. ]

The Additional Supervisor of the electricity department, Vidya Sagar Sharma,
had been asked by Taslimuddin’s men to make over Rs. 5000 plus the amount to
get 200 liters of petrol [ pp. 17, 38 ]. He had not done so. On 9 February
he and the Junior Engineer, Tanvir Hasan were summoned to the house of
Taslimuddin. They were beaten black and blue, they were throttled with
lathis being pushed against their throats, they were abused. All this was
done by Taslimuddin and by his men at his orders. Eventually Taslimuddin
asked his men to tie ropes around the waists of the two. This was done. The
two were then pulled and dragged through the town. They were abused as they
were dragged and taken around, they were spat upon, they were thrashed.
Taslimuddin himself was at the head of the procession. Witnesses testified
that they saw him holding the ropes to which these two were tied. The Junior
Engineer, Tanvir Hasan fainted as the procession reached the Chandni Chowk
of the town. Persons from the nearby hotel brought water. That is how he was
revived. Someone shouted that the police are coming. Taslimuddin and his men
left the two and ran away [ pp. 17, 23, 25, 29, 120-21 ].

The incident shook the town. On the 10th all the Non-Gazetted Officers of
the town went on strike. They went to the senior officers at Araria and told
them that they were all feeling terribly insecure. Therefore something ought
to be done, and Taslimuddin should be arrested. They were given the
assurance that the police would do patrolling of the town [ pp. 36-37 ].

By now there were five recent cases against Taslimuddin [ pp. 41-42 ]. On
the 12th the Non-Gazetted employees held another meeting. They passed a
resolution in which they said, inter alia , that to highlight their demand
for the arrest of “Taslimuddin and his gunda accomplices” they would all
wear black badges to work from the 14th to the 20th February, that they
would go on strike on the 25th, and take out a procession on the 27th. After
the meeting the secretary of the Non-Gazetted Employees Association sent a
telegram to the Chief Secretary of the Bihar Government saying, “Government
employees unsafe (.) Arrest of Sri Taslimuddin, and his criminal associates
demanded for controlling crime (.) Employees would observe protest black
badges from 14th to 20th February, 1986 (.) Token strike on 25th if demand
not met.”

That same day, the 12th, the police took the happenings to Court. The
Magistrate issued warrants for the arrest of Taslimuddin. Knowing that there
are at all times fifty to a hundred persons at the house of Taslimuddin the
administration took the precaution of having a magistrate accompany the
police party also. Taslimuddin got word that he was to be arrested. He fled
by the back-door. There were 15-20 badmashes at the house. Chicken had been
brought for them. When they heard that the police was on its way, they also
fled by the back-door. One of the men however was caught. It was he who gave
the account with which we started [ pp. 118-119 ].

Learning that Taslimuddin was likely to be in Patna or Kishanganj, police
went to the establishments at these places where he was likely to be. They
informed and sought the help of the local police. They were unable to trace
him. They returned to Araria. The Court was informed. The Judicial
Magistrate issued the order on 15 February for attaching and confiscating
the property of Taslimuddin. That evening neighbours and others saw the son
of Taslimuddin and that of another M.L.A., Ajit Sarkar, remove things from
the house [ pp. 31, 33 ].

The police and others concerned came to the house on the 16th. They took
away the assets they could find, including some door and window frames.
Several witnesses, including the neighbours of Taslimuddin, testified that
they saw the sons of Taslimuddin and Ajit Sarkar break portions of the house
after the police had left [ pp. 15-16, 17, 21, 23, 25, 110-111 ]. To cite
the testimony of just one witness, Samiur Rahman told the Committee, ” The
S.D.O. and Overseer were being taken tied with ropes, and being thrashed. He
saw this himself at the Chandni Chowk. Shri Taslim Sahib was holding the
rope himself. The Overseer fainted at the Chandni Chowk. He fell down. He
regained consciousness after he was given water. He was then thrashed again.
Shri Taslim Sahib shut a darogha, the handler of the dog and a boy called
Jyoti in his house. In their case also noises of abuse etc. were coming from
inside. On the day of the seizure and attachment of the property, the police
were taking away the movable property. But the same day in the evening I saw
the sons of Shri Ajit Sarkar and Taslimuddin breaking the house” [ p. 25 ].

On the 17th the President of the Bihar State Branch of the Indian Medical
Association wrote to the Speaker of the Bihar Assembly. He registered his
protest at the manhandling by Taslimuddin of Dr. S.R. Jha, the Medical
Officer at the Sub-Divisional Hospital in Araria, and the way the assailants
had misbehaved towards the Doctor. “I fail to understand,” the President of
the Association told the Speaker, “why the doctors are being made targets of
manhandling and assault by Members of Legislature since recent few months (
sic. ).” he appealed to the Speaker to have the matter inquired into
thoroughly “so that truth may come out on surface and necessary action can
be taken” [ p. 109 ].

A week later Taslimuddin started making a big noise claiming that the police
had committed the most extreme excesses when they had come to attach his
property [ p. 111 ]. Other politicians with whose parties he was then
associated took up the chorus. And the Special Committee came to be
constituted.

Even by then, Taslimuddin had been in jail nine times, he had been remanded
for theft [ p. 32 ]. Even by then he was involved in six criminal cases.
Among these were cases under section 148 of the Indian Penal Code ( rioting
armed with deadly weapons ); section 186 ( obstructing a public servant in
the discharge of his duties ); section 307 ( attempt to murder ); section
323 ( voluntarily causing hurt ); section 332 ( voluntarily causing hurt to
prevent a public servant from discharging his duty ); section 341 ( wrongful
restraint ); section 342 ( wrongful confinement ); section 353 ( assault or
use of criminal force to prevent a public servant from discharging his duty
); section 386 ( extortion by putting a person in fear of death or grievous
hurt ); section 419 ( cheating by impersonation ); section 420 ( cheating
and dishonestly inducing delivery of property ); section 467 ( forgery of
valuable security, will etc. ); section 471 ( using as genuine a forged
document ); section 504 ( intentional insult to provoke breach of peace );
section 506 ( criminal intimidation ) [ pp. 33-34 ].

Those are just a few things from just one report. The man’s career in these
regards has continued. As has his political career : he was for long an
M.L.A. in Bihar, from 1969 to 1989 : as a member successively of the
Congress, of the Citizens for Democracy, of the Lok Dal, of the Janata Dal,
of the Samajwadi Party, as an Independent. Since 1989, with one break he has
been a member not of a mere Assembly but of Parliament. This time round he
is not just any odd member, he is a Minister — as a member of the party
that swears by principles the most, that is the Janata Dal.

Several questions arise.

* Did the Home Secretary apprise the Prime Minister of the man’s
antecedents before the man was sworn in as Minister ? If he did not,
what does that tell us about the way our Home Ministry and intelligence
agencies function ?
* On the other hand , if the Home Secretary did inform the Prime Minister
and the Prime Minister appointed Taslimuddin Minister none the less,
what does that tell us about the Prime Minister and his priorities ?
* As Taslimuddin was appointed Minister on the recommendation of Laloo
Yadav, what does that tell us about Laloo Yadav ?
* Is it not a fact that once they include even such a person in the
ministry, governments are able to make out that they are “secular” ?
* What is one to think of our “socialists” who rush in to speak up for
such persons, and thereby shield them from the consequences of their
actions — and, I need hardly add, so long as person is a Muslim or
“Dalit” rushing in to speak up for him is an ailment endemic not just
to “socialists” but to activists in general.
* Can a country which surrenders the reins of governance to such hands
survive, even one in which the system has become so loose that, by the
permutations of chance and intrigue the reins fall into such hands ?

At the very least one suggestion is in order. Much is made by parties and
governments that they will have their legislators declare their assets. That
is all to the good, even though, the promise having been made, the parties
assume that enough has been done, and almost never require the legislators
to follow through and actually decare their assets. But I would urge an even
more elementary disclosure.

The Peoples Representation Act should be amended to require that each
candidate shall list in his Election Form the criminal cases in which he is
involved, giving in each instance the precise sections under which he is
charged . He should also have to declare the current state of each case. Any
false statement in this regard should be a ground for disqualifying the
candidate.

And the law should make it compulsory for all election material of the
candidate — posters, pamphlets etc. — to carry a list of the criminal
cases in which he is involved — exactly as packets of cigarettes are
required to carry a statutory warning : “Cigarette smoking is harmful to
your health.”

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